‘The Seven Year Itch’ at Sixty

Marilyn attended the premiere of The Seven Year Itch sixty years ago this week – on June 1, 1955, which was also her twenty-ninth birthday. Reviewing it for Vanity Fair, Micah Nathan dismisses it as a dated sex comedy. I disagree (as I think it’s still very funny), but it’s an interesting read.

“This week marks the 60th anniversary of The Seven Year Itch, Billy Wilder’s film adaptation of George Axelrod’s play about a middle-aged husband—left alone for the summer while his wife and son vacation in Maine—and the girl in the apartment upstairs. In Axelrod’s version, the husband is a fumbling, conflicted adulterer; in Wilder’s version, the husband is a fumbling, conflicted castrato, neutered to appease the Hays Code. Marilyn Monroe is the girl upstairs, and Tom Ewell, reprising his role from the play, is the middle-aged husband. The movie is typical of its era … Wilder would later call The Seven Year Itch ‘a nothing picture’ and claim he wish he’d never made it under such moral restrictions. How can a story about adultery not allow for adultery?

Monroe, that’s how…She seems like she came from the future. She makes everyone around her obsolete. Monroe walks differently. She talks differently. Under her command, that rapid-fire, stage-derived staccato, an audial watermark of 1950s Hollywood, slows to a sensuous, breathy legato. Every color looks good on her; every angle is flattering. The camera cannot remain objective, and neither can we.

Watching with 60 years’ worth of hindsight, it’s clear that The Seven Year Itch is about the sin of boredom, not lust. Left alone, the husband might do something he regrets, but under the supervision of his purring ingénue, he flirts harmlessly, drinks moderately, and makes a charming fool of himself. Monroe treats him the way a beautiful girl might treat the nice boy who lives next door. Her temptation reminds him of what matters most: family, or something like that. She ends their friendship with a three-second kiss, and Ewell flees his brownstone for the safety of Maine. Monroe waves good-bye from the window, smiling, wistful, wholesome, carnal. We don’t want to leave. We want to see her again. We want a girl like Monroe, but some itches are never scratched…”

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