While I would consider myself a big Billy Wilder fan, I was surprised to find The Seven Year Itch (1955), an adaptation of a play by George Axelrod, to be rather slight. The Seven Year Itch is probably less remembered for Wilder than it was for Marilyn Monroe and the famous scene with the subway breeze and a white dress. Like most classic scenes it was briefer and less salacious in reality than it was in the public consciousness because there were more in the promotional photos than the film. In a moment of incredible irony, Wilder parodies the would-be sexy beach scene in From Here to Eternity (1953) and has the audacity to call the movie out by name. That’s how low this film is in comparison to Wilder’s other films–if you’re not that familiar with the name, here’s a few Double Indemnity (1944), Sunset Blvd. (1950), Sabrina (1954), Some Like It Hot (1954), The Apartment (1960)–that he’s poking fun of a 2 year-old film.
Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell), along with the rest of the male population of Manhattan, has packed his wife (Evelyn Keyes) and son off for the summer. It’s a timeless tradition. The wives and children go off to the cool country or seaside while the men stay home to work and…hunt. But not Richard, oh no, not him. He’s going to be a good boy and cut the smoking, cut the drinking, and not get into any messy business that might end up with him getting a tattoo of a green dragon or worse! It starts well with a trip to a vegetarian restaurant and sitting down to look over a manuscript his company might be publishing. It’s about the psyche of the middle-aged male. And then, SMASH, a tomato plant crashes through his chair. The girl upstairs (Marilyn Monroe)–she never does give us her name–is subletting the place for the summer and accidentally pushed the potted plant off the balcony. But my lord, she’s beautiful. “Would you like to have a drink?” Look at that, cool as brass. “I’d love to!” Uh oh.
Setting a play to film can be tricky. Not unlike novels, there are certain things a reader or theatre-goer is willing to accept that never quite works on film. Soliloquies, for example, are acceptable forms of communication in a play. And outside Shakespeare, only Equus (1977) has used a soliloquy without seeming silly. But that was Richard Burton and this is Tommy Ewell. Now who in the hell is Tommy Ewell you might be asking. Seems to me that Mr. Ewell was a comic actor, more comic than actor, who played the thing just about as near to the level of a high school production as he could without looking simple. The whole thing is dominated by Richard talking to himself in what might have been hilarious and ironic observations of the modern man. But he can’t carry it off, not at all.
That’s too bad because that’s 80% of the show. Another 10% is Marilyn Monroe and the other 10% is her cleavage. So 10% of the movie was pretty good and the other 10% was distracting. I saw My Week with Marilyn (2011), so I want to see her movies with her as a human being rather than “a live doll”. That’s pretty difficult since the public perception was built on that very perception. This is not the film to see if you want to see her at her best. There are moments, plenty, where she’s absolutely hilarious and not simply on the strength of her blonde hair. She’s certainly playing a different game than ol’ Tommy.
I’m being pretty hard on the movie because this is Billy Wilder and I expected more. If Jack Lemmon were playing Richard, this thing would have gone up a few ticks, sure as shootin’, but he wasn’t so it can’t, so it won’t. There’s nothing to it except, possibly, a rather blase view towards infidelity. Any sighting of Wilder comes in some of the throw-away moments like Richard’s job or the big laugh lines. Maybe Wilder thought this was going to be his version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947). Well, Ewell just about buries those imagination sequences in his ham-fisted comic stylings as he did everything else.
Mentioned in this review…