US Release Date: 06/03/1955
Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch.
The Seven Year Itch is lots of promise and publicity with very little delivery. It was a vastly hyped film when it first came out. Marilyn was at the very peek of her popularity. A cut out poster of her, that was several stories tall, was put up in Time Square for the release of the movie. The movie takes place in New York and is based on a Broadway play. Monroe had recently married Joe Dimaggio. This was a seriously publicized movie. At the time it was a hit. However it does not stand the test of time by any means.
Marilyn plays a model who moves into an apartment above a man whose wife and son have just gone away for the summer. The man, Tom Ewell, spends the entire movie lusting over Monroe as she innocently and accidentally flirts with him. In one scene Monroe's character is naked (implied only) on a balcony above Ewell. She explains that her panties are in the fridge so that when she puts them on she will keep cool. This is supposed to be a sexy scene but Monroe delivers the line without the slightest hint of sexual teasing. It's more like a 7 year old matter-of-factly saying it.
This is Monroe's stereotypical role. Her character is extraordinarily dumb. When Ewell attempts to kiss her on a piano bench they fall to the floor. Monroe sits up saying she has no clue what just happened.
A real bad decision in making this movie was hiring Tom Ewell. Sure he played the part on Broadway but why have such an inconspicuous actor play opposite the most photogenic sex symbol in film history. He comes across as the pathetic class loser trying to nail the impossibly gorgeous head cheerleader.
Even though this movie was made in the conservative 50's it should have been filled with more sexual innuendos. Sure it has some, but they are so obvious that they are not funny or sexy. For example, in one scene, Monroe has her arms full of stuff, including a fan. She tells Ewell that her fan is caught in the door. The camera is at an angle so that you see Monroe's ass in a very tight dress. You also see that the cord to her fan is caught in the door. Get it? Her fan - her fanny - is caught in the door. Yeah, that is how bad it is.
Of course this movie contains the famous subway blowing the skirt scene. You will be disappointed. It shows her skirt start to rise and then you only see her from above the waist. There are dozens of photos and posters of that scene that are sexier than the scene itself. One other noteworthy scene is when Ewell is having heated words with a man and says that he could have a woman in his kitchen and that he might even have Marilyn Monroe in there. That is as clever as this movie gets.
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Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch..
I agree Eric, The Seven Year Itch is long past its sell by date. The set-up is hopelessly old-fashioned, the jokes are corny, and the characters outdated. I actually laughed out loud when Ewell says that his wife is getting old and that she will soon lose her looks, and then gives her age. She's (gasp) 31! And to support this statement they actually gave her hair grey highlights!
There really isn't a plot to speak of. Most of the story takes place in Ewell's head as he imagines himself in various situations, including seducing Marilyn at the piano while playing Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2", his wife having a fling on a hayride with another man, and his wife storming in and shooting him in a fit of jealousy. This last fantasy sequence ends on one of the best punchlines. As Mr. Sherman lies dying on the stairs, he begs his wife for one last cigarette. His wife refuses, saying, “A cigarette? You know what Dr. Murphy told you about smoking!”
The sexist attitudes and the clothing fashions in The Seven Year Itch are quintessential 1950s. Several pop culture references also confirm the decade of its release. One fantasy sequence parodies the lovemaking-in-the-surf scene in From Here to Eternity and it is after leaving a movie theater showing Creature from the Black Lagoon that the famous subway vent, skirt blowing scene occurs. Eric is right that it's disappointing. Marilyn's entire body is nowhere to be seen. The photographs are far more iconic than the clip in the movie.
Marilyn is her usual adorably sexy self, although she is underused. After nearly everything Mr. Sherman says to her, she replies, “I think that's just elegant.” In her unmistakably breathy speaking voice. The Girl (she is never given a name as she is a fantasy not a person) has similar taste in men to Sugar Kane in Some Like it Hot. She doesn't go for big, strong, aggressive men, she prefers the timid, shy, bookworm type. I think Billy Wilder was living vicariously through his male screen counterparts.
Although it was a huge hit in 1955, The Seven Year Itch has definitely lost its scratch.
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Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year Itch.
Monroe in that billowing white dress is just about the only memorable thing in this film. That moment was originally shot on location at the corner of 52nd street and Lexington Avenue, just outside the old Trans-Lux theater in front of a crowd of over 1,000 people. Nearly all of the photographs you see of Monroe in the white dress are taken from this location shoot. Unfortunately, the noise from the crowd made the footage unusable and so it was reshot on a set and in a much less risque manner. Reportedly DiMaggio was present at the location filming and was furious at seeing his wife ogled by the crowd and the event contributed to the disintegration of their short-lived marriage.
The Lexington Avenue shot wasn't the only scene filmed on location. There's also a scene at the beginning of the movie inside the grand old Pennsylvania Station, which would be torn down in just a few short years. It's one of the only places where you can see film of the station in color. In another scene you can see the Third Avenue Elevated Train, the last El train in Manhattan, which would be torn down by the end of 1955. According to TCM, another fantasy sequence was shot at Yankee Stadium and featured Yogi Berra, the Yankees catcher at the time, but wasn't included in the final cut.
Of all the dumb blondes Monroe played in her career, this has to be the dumbest. She's so dim that you have to seriously wonder whether or not she's mentally sound. When Mr. Sherman moves in to kiss her, she says, "Hey, what happened? I sort of lost track." as if she really has no clue what he was doing. In different roles she proved she had range, but this isn't one of those roles. She still has her moments and is positively adorable in it, but this is far from her best performance.
Physically, Marilyn was in her prime. Just 28 years old when the movie was shot, before the alcohol and time had done its work. She's positively luminescent. Her sexuality though is seriously damaged by her stupidity. As you said Eric, she comes across so childlike, she has no idea of her effect on Mr. Sherman or anyone else and seems completely oblivious about things like the sexy photos she had taken. It's as if she's unaware of sex at all. I kept waiting for the moment when she would wink to the audience to show it was all an act but that moment never comes. The closest she comes is the pure fantasy moment you refer to Patrick where she mentions being attracted to the timid, shy, bookworm type, which really should have turned out to be one of Mr. Sherman's fantasies. Even on the final kiss you're not sure she really understands the effect she has.
Eric, I think the point is that Tom Ewell is supposed to be the dweeby guy trying to nail the hot girl way out of his league. I do agree with you though that he doesn't have the charisma or talent to really carry this movie and this is his movie, not Monroe's, despite the fact that she is the only thing anyone remembers about it.
The Trans-Lux theater is long gone, although the subway grate at 52nd and Lexington still exists. Old Penn Station is long gone, as is the 3rd Avenue El. Even the old Yankee Stadium where the scene that got cut was filmed, has been torn down. This movie is still around though, although if it weren't for the vivacious Marilyn Monroe it too would have long been forgotten.
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Photos © Copyright 20th Century Fox (1955)