When I think of Billy Wilder, I think of pretty dark and / or cynical stuff, like Sunset Boulevard or The Apartment, or not so long ago, Lost Weekend. I don’t think of screwball comedies. I know he made Some Like It Hot and that for some people, that’s the epitome of a screwball comedy, but I just found it boring, corny and too predictable every step of the way. So, with that as my only previous experience with Wilder on comedy, it’s probably for the best that I didn’t know going in that The Seven Year Itch is a) a screwball comedy, and b) directed by Billy Wilder.
Cut to present day 1955 and a Manhattan train station is full of men in suits, bidding goodbye to their own wives and children, off on summer vacations while their husbands stay to work in the city. Main character Richard Sherman, played by Tom Ewell, explains this summer ritual by talking aloud, to himself. This continues for the remainder of the movie. If he’s not talking to another character, he’s talking to himself, explaining every thought, every nuance of the situation, every beat of story, so the audience always knows exactly what’s going on in his head. This is the most blatant signifier that The Seven Year Itch is based on a play where a character vocalising their internal monologue wouldn’t seem as out of place as it does on the screen. It kind of annoyed me at first, but once I got into the groove, it actually lead to some of the movie’s best jokes.
It turns out that it was quite common back then for blokes to bang around while their old ladies were off on holiday with the kids (it was a simpler time). So when Ewell realises a new girl is staying in the apartment above him, and that this new girl is played by Marilyn Monroe, he starts to freak out about the inevitability of her gagging for a bit of what he has to offer. His constant delusions about his own irresistibility, his paranoia and his guilt over things he hasn’t even done all pile on top of each other, getting funnier and funnier, until he learns a valuable lesson about how lucky he is to have his wife and son. It’s not as sappy that sounds though.
I get that Marilyn Monroe is a bit of alright, but I don’t get the appeal of her schtick. Why did men go so crazy for her annoying little girl voice and even more annoying delivery? The infantilization thing is just creepy. And it means I really have no idea if she’s actually a good actor or not. Is it all an act and she’s delivering an amazing performance? Is she high as shit on quaaludes? Is she high as shit on a Kennedy or two? I really have no idea. But I do know The Seven Year Itch is a solid comedy that holds up after almost sixty years.
(Original review posted Sept 24, 2013)