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The Seven Year Itch – Billy Wilder

Submitted by on January 8, 2011 – 6:40 pmNo Comment

A delightful and witty farce, The Seven Year Itch combines the talents of Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell with hilarious results. Adapted by George Axelrod and Billy Wilder from Axelrod’s Broadway play, it is essentially the extended reverie of a plain, middle-aged publisher of paperback books con­cerning his amorous fantasies. Ewell’s deft comic timing, Wilder’s brisk di­rection, and the radiant presence of Marilyn Monroe give luster to this sophisticated comedy.

The script sets up situations bound to have many comic possibilities, then explores most of them inventively and at a rapid pace, and quickly finishes before we tire of the gags. New Yorker Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) sends his wife, Helen (Evelyn Keyes), and son, Ricky (Butch Bernard), to Maine for the summer so they can escape the city’s heat and humidity. Although he has a vivid sexual imagination continually kept sharp through its exercise, he is determined to lead a sensible life during the summer and not be like the other men he knows who start playing around as soon as their wives leave town. The very first night he is alone, however, he finds his good resolutions severely tested by The Girl upstairs (Marilyn Monroe)—she is never given a name—a summer tenant in the building where he lives.

Having decided not to smoke, drink (following the orders of Helen and his doctor), or give in to other forms of temptation, he goes to a vegetarian restaurant for dinner. All the other diners are elderly. Even the waitress is plain and middle-aged and does not accept tips; she does, however, solicit a contribution for the nudist fund, explaining that without clothes there would be no wars: soldiers would not be able to tell enemies from friends. Depressed by this experience, Sherman returns to his comfortably cluttered apartment, stepping on one of Ricky’s roller skates in the process, and then prepares to read a manuscript his firm is planning to publish.

At this point he meets the new summer tenant in the apartment above his—a shapely, wide-eyed blonde in a tight dress. The meeting triggers his always active imagination, and instead of reading the manuscript which he has brought home, he begins to fantasize. Written by a psychiatrist, the manuscript is about the repressed urges of middle-aged men. Sherman thinks it will be boring, but when he later reads it, he finds it describes a condition particularly applicable to himself—the tendency of men married for seven years to seek extramarital adventures. The psychiatrist calls it the seven-year itch. In his fantasy, Sherman tells his wife he has an “animal thing” which arouses something in the women he meets. He tells her of the attempts of his secretary, a beautiful nurse, and finally her best friend to seduce him (the scene with her best friend taking place on a deserted beach with waves crashing on the shore in a parody of the famous love scene in From Here to Eternity, 1953). His wife, however, refuses to take him seriously and just laughs at his stories.

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