Billy Wilder’s 1955 romantic comedy The Seven Year Itch has proved to be one of his most popular films. It was his first pairing with Marilyn Monroe and whilst it fails to hit the peaks of 1959’s Some Like It Hot, it still has enough redeeming qualities to warrant its popularity.
The film concerns married man Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell), who is experiencing what psychologists refer to as the seven year itch – after seven years of marriage many experience discomfort brought on by extended monogamous relationships. Richard becomes infatuated with a girl (Monroe) living above his apartment whilst his wife and child visit Maine for the summer to escape the Manhattan heat. As he tangles himself up in his own mind his tendency to daydream takes over, a matter exacerbated by his increasing closeness to his new friend.
It is these daydreams that provide most of the laughs. As the film progresses they become more surreal and the window into Richard’s mind becomes a portal to a place full of fear and panic. Ewell’s performance can feel a little forced at times and the actor fails to endear Sherman to the viewers, an essential requirement when we’re watching him attempt to commit adultery. Perhaps his acting was better suited to the Broadway stages where the subtleties of emotion need to be overplayed to ensure the back row sees it. After an estimated 900 performances in the role it would be hard to unlearn that. This would ultimately prove to be his defining role.
The script is the perfect platform for Monroe to unleash the naïve and bubbly persona that served her so well throughout her career. It works on this level and she’s a breath of fresh air when she first appears.
A discussion about this film can’t go very far without mentioning the famous subway air vent scene, where Monroe’s dress flies up in the breeze created by the train passing by underneath. It is perhaps one of the most iconic shots in any film ever released. It doesn’t quintessentially add or detract from the story itself, so if you’re watching just for that scene you may be a little underwhelmed. Indeed, you may never see what you hope for – the famous full-length photo the world is familiar with was taken at the original shoot, which was unusable due to crowd commotion. The scene later had to be recreated in a studio. At no point does the full-length shot appear.
The film was actually name-checked in Sabrina, Billy Wilder’s previous film released a year earlier. It’s hard to resist comparing the two films. Side-by-side, this doesn’t really come close to the magic audiences had seen when Audrey Hepburn wowed the world by pairing her timeless beauty with a sublime acting performance. Monroe was never an actress of the same calibre as Hepburn and this isn’t helped by a much more shallow script.
The Seven Year Itch is available to buy on Blu-Ray now.