Irony and The Seven Year Itch

**Fair warning: this review/essay contains spoilers and assumes a basic knowledge of the film’s events**

For more years than I care to admit, I deliberately avoided seeing The Seven Year Itch. The overwhelming popular culture perception of the film (this and this) just put me off and I couldn’t stand the thought of watching it. But when I had my Marilyn revelation (explained here) I decided to give the film a chance. After all, I could fast forward the yucky Tom Ewell scenes I just knew had to exist. And that’s when I discovered one of the greatest (yet not discussed) misconceptions of classic film.

You see, on the surface, The Seven Year Itch looks like a film glorifying extra-marital affairs. You think it’s about Tom Ewell blatantly moving Marilyn into his apartment while Evelyn Keyes* is away. Well, at least that’s what I thought.

While it’s true that the majority of the film is seen from the perspective of Tom Ewell’s character (the creepily annoying Richard Sherman**), the film remains a wry, truthful window into the life of a beautiful woman (Marilyn Monroe, simply named The Girl). TE blunders around in this selfish little fantasy world imagining how much better his life would be if Marilyn was his girl. And every so often, the viewer gets these little glimpses into The Girl’s thoughts, usually occurring at the same moment TE is off imagining.

As is so often the case with relationships, Richard Sherman sees his friendship with The Girl as his one chance to be “the big man.” In all their encounters, he spends most of the time plotting how he will maneuver her into a situation of his design. And what is she doing? She’s absorbed by the fear that she’ll be enduring another sleepless night in an air condition-less apartment. Simple as that. She’s not in the fantasy land Richard Sherman created for her. She doesn’t even realize he’s thinking those things. All she wants is a good night’s sleep.

And miraculously, in spite of his overt lecherousness, The Girl actually enjoys his company and ends up making one of the all time best speeches in movie history concerning what women (at least nice women) actually want:

How do you know what a pretty girl wants? You and your imagination! You think every girl’s a dope! A pretty girl goes to a party and there’s some guy – a great big lug in a fancy striped vest, strutting around like a tiger, giving you that “I’m so handsome you can’t resist me” look. And from this, she’s supposed to fall flat on her face. Well she doesn’t fall on her face.

But there’s another guy in the room. Way over in the corner. Maybe he’s kind of nervous and shy – perspiring a little. First you look past him, but then you sort of sense he’s gentle and kind and worried. And he’ll be tender with you. Nice and sweet. That’s what’s really exciting!

After I heard this the first time, I stood up in my living room and clapped. It was singularly refreshing to finally hear a beautiful woman strike a blow for being treated with care: “tender, nice and sweet.” Yes, please.

So, in the end, I discovered that The Seven Year Itch is actually a hilarious look at how men relate to women. Even the all the awkwardness, mistakes, miscommunications and misunderstandings that can arise just from two people meeting make that interaction a worthwhile experience. It’s surprisingly family-oriented and the polar opposite of the unbridled raunch-fest pop-culture would have you believe. Do give it a go, if you’ve yet to see it. It now lives high atop the list of my favorite Marilyn films.

*Evelyn Keyes’ hair in this movie qualifies for most unfair hairdo in a film. It’s a hideous nest of poodle curls that she never did anything to deserve.

**I would also like to address the fact that Richard Sherman is quite the paranoid screwball. He’s a middle-aged, happily married man who incessantly talks to himself and leaps to insane conclusions based on his wild imaginings. Honestly, he’s incredibly lucky his wife hasn’t shipped him off to the looney bin already.

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10 Comments

Filed under Movie Review, Rants

10 responses to “Irony and The Seven Year Itch

  1. Great post, Casey!!! :D I was so excited to see you tweet that you’d written on your blog :D

    I haven’t seen this movie in so long.. probably since I used to rent videos from Blockbuster like 8-9 years ago.. YIKES! I just remember really liking MM’s performance, and absolutely LOATHING Tom Ewell. I think I avoided everything he was in for years because of this role. I don’t remember the movie too well since it’s been a while, but I think I had the same impression as you, that the movie was definitely more of a cry for *good* guys, and an indictment on smarmy louses like Tom Ewell’s character!

  2. Wow thanks for that! Yes I avoided MM for years, too! For precisely the same reasons! I was converted much less subtly: I saw The Misfits. But nonetheless love everything she’s in, now (possibly “Let’s Make Love” is an exception. She seems to suffer in that one, underneath the silliness) And yes, Tom Ewell’s quite vile. Yecchhh! He also manages to ruin the ultra-camp fun of “The Girl Can’t Help It”. Ew ew ew! Get him away from me, ew!

  3. I really like Seven Year Itch, and although I was always neither here not there on MM she has grown on me in recent years, as she’s just quite magnetically beautiful on screen. Sometimes her breathy bimbo voice puts me off but most of the time it is used to comedic effect and it’s all pretty light-hearted. I take those films how they’re intended, usually poking fun at the men who are fawning after her, rather than poking fun at her. I do think Tom Ewell hit the jackpot getting to play the leading man opposite Marilyn and Jayne Mansfield! I bet his friends were green with envy.

  4. I’m very glad you gave this film a chance. It’s very innocent. When I first watched it I didn’t have the notion that it was a raunchy film. I thought it would be light and humorous which it totally is!

    Thank you for pointing out that quote! I’ve seen this movie a dozen times but never really put any thought into what Marilyn Monroe’s The Girl said. It’s really a great set of lines.

  5. Hiya, Kate – Thanks! Yeah, it’s been so long since I’ve properly blogged, a new post has become an event now!

    I agree with your assessment. Marilyn is absolutely radiant and Tom Ewell is supremely creepy (as always with him). It’s hard to see why he was ever a movie star!

  6. Hi Patricia!

    Ah, The Misfits is such a fantastic film. Marilyn just makes you want to reach into the screen and hold her, she’s so vulnerable. Agree about Let’s Make Love. I saw that for the first time last week and was amazed at the oddness of it. Bing Crosby teaching Yves Montand how to sing? It’s so strange.

    Haha, I feel just the same about Tom Ewell. YUCK!

    Thanks so much for the comment!

  7. Hi Rocketblast – I understand what you mean about the breathy voice becoming annoying at times. That’s what I thought about her at first, too. After you learn to see through the whole sex bomb facade, it doesn’t annoy you as much. Yeah, who the heck did Tom Ewell pay to get all those roles, I wonder?

  8. Hi Raquel! I’m glad I gave it a chance, too. Such a gem under the hype. Very happy you enjoyed that quote. I always patiently wait for that part when I watch the film. It’s one of my favorite scenes.

  9. Enjoyed your perceptive analysis of this film and of Marilyn’s character, who only has AC on her mind (very sensible). You’re right, Tom Ewell is hideously unattractive here. He was the same in “The Girl Can’t Help It,” which he made with another blonde bombshell, Jayne Mansfield (and in that one he actually GETS the girl). You have to wonder if there was some kind of fantasy projection going on in the minds of of these films’ producers in deciding to cast Ewell.

  10. I saw this film a few years back now. I’d never actually seen a MM film before :O And I liked that there was more to her than the image of a blonde bimbo that the media creates. Yep….. Tom Ewell *shudder* :D

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