The Seven Year Itch is the film that brought us that most iconic image of Marilyn Monroe with her beautiful, white dress billowing up around her. It’s the go-to for any good Marilyn costume and seems to have captured everything we saw Marilyn to be. Beautiful, sensual and joyful. It’s no surprise that she is stunning in this film, but making the base of her character a “temptress” just makes the allure all that more intense. I adore this film and it’s no wonder as Billy Wilder directed this and Some Like It Hot, my absolute favorite Marilyn movie of all time. That man had comedic talent like nobody else.
The film is about poor Mr. Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) who is under appreciated and overworked, bored with the monotony of his life though he is in denial about the whole thing until he meets his new neighbor, played by Marilyn. When his wife goes out of town for the summer with his son, he resists the urge that everyone else seems to give into of chasing whatever tail is left in town. He tries his best to be an honorable man, but who would really stand a chance with Marilyn right up stairs? Mr. Sherman fights it though as much as he can. Richard Sherman has quite an amazing imagination that he puts to good use in his lonely state. One fantasy even mimics the kissing scene on the beach in From Here to Eternity. The longer his is alone, the worse things seem to get. In the beginning he is an honorable sort of man, priding himself on not doing anything crazy while the wife is away, but as he delves into a manuscript he is proofing from Dr. Brubaker (Oskar Homolka) on the male condition, particularly the seven year itch that men get after being in a monogamous relationship for an extended period of time, we watch him devolve. The first step backward is a cigarette and then a drink, both of which he promised his wife he would not do.
Before you know it Marilyn is in the apartment and no longer just a fantasy, or is she? The two start an evening of drinking together in which Sherman finds out plenty of substanceless details about his neighbor, trying to hide the drinking and the girl from his wife. The girl’s philosophy concerning married men and why you don’t have to worry about them, they can’t ask you to marry them since they are already married. Ah, to have your biggest trouble be men falling over themselves to marry you. He does make his move and quickly comes to his senses, kicking Marilyn out of his apartment no matter how badly he wanted her to stay. Dr. Brubaker starts analyzing Sherman upon a visit to his office. The will he or won’t he story line was a genius way to keep the audience invested, no matter which way you want things to go.
This film is a fantastic case study in the male mind and the places it goes, constantly and consistently. The creepy part of all of Sherman’s fantasies are that he imagines he is sharing them with his wife, but not in the sense that she is “into” it, rather she is disputing and belittling his supposed exploits all the way. Mr. Sherman thinks of himself as many men see themselves in their fantasies and the way plenty of them see themselves in real life in real life; irresistible. I feel as though Sherman’s fantasies are some mixture of the female and male fantasy as they are a little involved and have a fair amount of story to them on the feminine side, but some alpha-esque moments and extreme admiration from the females involved on the masculine side. It speaks to his publisher’s mind that he develops such elaborate stories as from my experience, men don’t have to work all that hard at such things. Despite his noble efforts to refrain from being unfaithful, his male inclinations get the best of him with Marilyn, but really, who could blame him? She is just simply stunning.
I love how Sherman’s fantasies evolve into his certainty that he cannot be trusted to be alone. He convinces himself he is going crazy due to the small incomplete discretion. That is the only explanation for his behavior, because of course it couldn’t have anything to do with his self control. His efforts and thought for his wife are more at the forefront than I would expect from a film of this era. Despite his delusions of his own irresistible nature, Sherman outwardly still seems outwardly as a rather bumbling middle-aged middle manager. Guilt can do crazy things to a person, aside from how Sherman is acting, he is so wrapped up in his wife finding out about what he didn’t do that he starts fantasizing about his wife’s own imagined indiscretions while he is away. These are some of the most hilarious and absurd moments of the film. We are so good at finding excuses to be have badly, Sherman uses his wife’s imaginary affair to justify asking Marilyn out again.
The thought put into making Marilyn fodder for fantasies is fantastic. Wilder wanted to keep her so abstract as to not even give her a name, she is billed as The Girl. She, of course is a commercial actress and model to give her minimal substance. I don’t mean that as a slight to commercial actresses or models, just thinking of the time in which the film was made and the stereotypes that existed. There are moments that Marilyn reminds me so much of Lucille Ball in this film, which just makes her that much more endearing.
The genius of Sherman is that he is truly an every man. He is the red-blooded American male who was respected so much back then and his misbehavior could be overlooked so much easier if he were a hard working family man. The excuse for his indiscretions is furthered by Marilyn’s apparent oblivious and flight nature. His ploys to kiss Monroe are juvenile, making them less threatening. Add the heat and the lure of Sherman’s air conditioner and you have the perfect “innocent” situation to share with the public. Once the most famously damning words in the English language, “we’re not doing anything wrong” are spoken by Marilyn, the allusion let us know trouble is not far behind. After Sherman’s landlord shows up, she once again becomes the fantasy that he can’t finish, but that he can’t stop starting.
What begins as what looks to be a boring two weeks for Mr. Sherman turns into anything but. An overactive imagination can really do a number on you, especially when you’re alone. I find that to be true for me, usually in a dark quiet house, but my mind doesn’t lend itself to the carnal, it goes to horror instead. That makes for a fun night. Add guilt to all of it and you have a recipe for complete disaster. These are the situations in which people out themselves when nothing would have happened if they just stayed calm. I feel watching this film that poor Mr. Sherman should just write a romance novel and be done with it.
One of my favorite things about this film is that Marilyn never gets a name, keeping her a nameless fantasy through and through until the very end. Wilder really gets the best comedic moments out of his actors and seemed to really be able to get the best out of Marilyn. The guarded chemistry between Monroe and Ewell is stupendous and is the center of the film’s success. I can’t let the biggest secret of the film go, you have to see it for yourself, suffice to say Sherman makes the right decision after all and as is standard for the time, he gets a happily ever after.