The movie with the scene that made Marilyn Monroe thee sex symbol for all time!
Screenplay By: George Axelrod & Billy Wilder
Directed By: Billy Wilder
Throughout recorded history certain images, phrases and people become entrenched in the public conscious. In 1955 by wearing a dress and standing over a subway grate Marilyn Monroe became a sex symbol like no other. The dress flitting about in the breeze while she futilely tries to hold it in place became an image that was sought after as the every definition of sexuality, and even in today’s much more vulgar world it is still an image that is used to espouse sexuality. The funny thing is that the scene in the movie is much different from the actual image that permeates the cultural landscape. Yes, Marilyn’s dress does get blown to and fro, but quick cuts and angles stop you from actually seeing anything to revealing, although the slightest shot of her bare legs is enough for most guys. The images that were released to promote the film are much racier and feature the actual iconic sight of the dress blowing over her head and revealing little snippets of what is underneath. In a lot of ways that image and what was actually in the picture is like The Seven Year Itch itself, not quite what it seems or maybe even not quite like how we want to remember it.
I do love Billy Wilder as a filmmaker and I freely acknowledge that he was a master at his craft. But, I’ve always felt that there was a strong hint of misogyny in even his best works. The Seven Year Itch is chance for that misogyny to come out full bore. There is supposed to be a take on the idea of the middle aged crisis and the falseness and insincerity of marriage in the themes of The Seven Year Itch, but that is quickly overridden by the route Wilder chooses to convey his picture. All one need do is look at the name of Monroe’s character, The Girl. She isn’t even worthy of a name, she is just a hot woman on display for all to ogle. No doubt her inclusion was meant to be a statement on what drives the male desire, but the way the camera treats her and the actions of every man in the picture go against any sort of serious message about anything other than that she is hot.
Every moment Monroe is on screen the camera fawns over her, she is treated like a Goddess. Rightfully so perhaps, this is a woman that would rank in my top all-time beauties and puts most of what we consider Hollywood beauty today to shame. But, The Seven Year Itch tries to put her beauty on full display and asks the audience to go gaga over her while at the same time forming some sort of message on the ridiculousness of the 1950’s marriage. That message never quite works, because the movie is too tame, the adulterous act is never consummated, the characters are far too likable and as I have said the camera and Wilder refuse to see Monroe as anything but a sexpot that every man should want and therefore their desires are justified.
There are also earlier scenes that do further play into Wilder’s more misogynistic tendencies, such as Richard’s dream sequence with his wife where every woman on the planet fawns over him and he has to beat them off, literally. Then there is the fact that every male character in The Seven Year Itch is on the prowl, no matter their situation. Wilder seems to want to create a scenario where men are hapless victims pulled to their inevitable fate by the irresistible wiles of women. This set-up never works and does ring of far too much misogyny.
It’s surprising then that I did like The Seven Year Itch as much as I did. It’s not a great film by any means, but I did find plenty of scenes to be funny or charming and Wilder’s trademark wit was present for the most part. If the film would have actually tackled the issues it hinted at then Tom Ewell would have been miscast, but with the uneven tilt of the picture Ewell is perfect as the wimp to Monroe’s steely sexuality. Monroe is extremely likable, this certainly isn’t a great acting performance from her in the traditional sense. But, I’m not about to knock what she did because with her pure sexuality she manages to make me care about every scene she is in. It’s hard to describe but her way of doing this is much different than that of other woman where it’s all too obvious that all they are offering is sex appeal. With Monroe there is obviously sex appeal but she also hints at more beneath the surface and that is very appealing.
An uneven picture for sure, but there is plenty to like about The Seven Year Itch. It’s certainly a lesser Wilder, it’s even a lesser Monroe as she has shown far more serious acting chops in other roles. But, The Seven Year Itch is funny and still a fun watch for the most part. This is the film that launched the sex symbol for years to come into the minds of the world, and for that reason alone it is more than worthy of a viewing.