**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.