29.6.13

I Keep My Undies In The Ice Box!: The Seven Year Itch (1955)

First off, I want to thank Movies, Silently for the opportunity to be involved in The Funny Lady blog-a-thon, and be given the excellent task of tackling Marilyn Monroe no less!  I have decided to revisit The Seven Year Itch, a film I have no seen in years, firstly, because I find it to be one of the funniest (if not the funniest) films ever made.  Second, however, I also believe it speaks volumes to the brilliant performer that Marilyn Monroe was, while also allowing her to play with notions of her own place as a sexual icon, as well as the larger idea of male fantasy and expectations of the "ideal conquest."  I picked this movie specifically because it is so funny, and while much of that can be credited to the involvement of Billy Wilder and the droopy-eyed performance of Tom Ewell, it, ultimately, comes down to the masterful delivery of Monroe as a fantastical version of some robotic version of an ideal male woman, who is a risqué model with demure sensibilities and a young, overly idealistic woman who just also happens to have a mature understanding of the complexities of marriage.  While it is never expressly stated, one can assume that the film is a large scale fantasy on the part of the main character and that his fantasy is merely a projection, in which case, the performance Monroe puts on takes another layer of absurdity, nonetheless, being portrayed with a stone-eyed certainty as she delivers lines about retrieving snack foods and undergarments from iceboxes.  Simply put, what Monroe does in The Seven Year Itch is reject everything that the cult of celebrity had created for her, through blowing it all out of proportion, because while the cultural image of Monroe is easily the famous publicity still of her in a white dress catching a draft from a passing subway car, that was merely an instant in this film, it is not reflective of her in the slightest.  One must remember that Monroe also took on serious roles in films like All About Eve, Clash By Night and another Technicolor delight River of No Return.  As such, she is performing a comedic deconstruction of herself within the framework of The Seven Year Itch, one that is half-fantasy/ half-absurdity and all perfection.  I would argue that actors, regardless of gender, struggle to commit to a character with such a degree of certainty as Monroe displays in this racy film that stands as one of the big breaks from the restrictions of The Hayes Code.


The Seven Year itch focuses on the experiences of the shy and sheepish Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) a well-to-do publishing agent who, like many men living in Manhattan in the fifties, finds himself seeing his wife Helen (Evelyn Keyes) and son Ricky (Butch Bernard) off as they leave town, while he stays in town and continues accruing wealth for the family.  Richard, a schmuck of sorts adheres to every detail his wife lays out for him, including an avoidance of smoking and drinking and a strict diet, all doctor's orders of course.  Richard, who constantly speaks about his love for his wife, nonetheless, fantasizes about all his possible moments of infidelity, while also creating a projection of Helen that dismisses his claims.  Richard finds himself even incapable of thinking about cheating, without the condemnation of his wife.  Seemingly fine simply existing in a liminal space between freedom from his family and a constant reminder of their presence, through slips on roller skates and hidden keys to his cigarette chest, things change for Richard drastically when he is met with a new occupant in his complex, a curvaceous young blonde woman who becomes simply known as The Girl (Marilyn Monroe).  The innocent girl initially asks Richard for help getting into the house which he gladly agrees to do, although it is clear that he is fraught with anxiety over how to help this woman whose stunning beauty is alarming, a matter that is made all the worse when she accidentally knocks a tomato plant onto his balcony later that evening, only missing Richard by seconds.  This accident leads to Richard inviting The Girl down for a drink, to which his fantasies begin running wild from causing the girl to swoon over performances of Rachmaninoff to perfect cocktail recopies.  Yet even as Richard unfolds elaborate plans his reality impedes constantly, through things like the landlord attempting to change the carpeting and a check-up call from Helen.  Despite these constant distractions timing still proves in his favor as The Girl enters and the two hit it off, despite his nervousness, awkwardness and misdirection, leading to a failed performing of not the Russian composer, but instead the simple Chopsticks.  The next day, Richard finds himself despairing over his foolish advances, only to be furthered condemned by a psychoanalytically inclined author that says his desires are a result of pent up frustrations and the like.  Invariably, Richard and The Girl continue seeing one another, although their engagements, aside from innocent kisses are left undisplayed, but an encounter with one of Helen's dear friends leads Richard to realizing where his true concerns should lie and he flees form Manhattan, ultimately, leaving both his fantasies and realities behind him to join his family on vacation.


If one is to assume that much of this film exists in the space of Richard's fantasies, the dream sequences within the already established dream would make the film a sort of meta-fantasy, wherein, Richard has one projection of his own life that is not suited to his liking and simply adds another layer to make it more fantastical or indicative of his personal desires.  This is scene when he is already troubled by the idea that he does not represent the ideal masculine of somebody like Tom MacKenzie (Sonny Tufts) who he suspects his wife to be having an affair with, therefore, he creates another layer to his fantasy that involves The Girl saying that she is only interested in men who, like Richard, are shy and constantly perspiring.  If there is a certain degree of layering to his idealization and desire on Richard's part I would contest that there is also the same amount of twisting and multiplicity within Monroe's performance.  As noted earlier she is playing a heavily caricatured version of the sultry, yet shallow, young model that would encompass male desire, tragically, something she would become known and stereotyped for both on and off the screen.  Yet, Monroe bring a certain vapidness to the role, not because she is a bad actress, that is far from the case (refer to the films mentioned earlier), but because she knows that such a "desired" version of femininity requires that the woman strip away all notions of emotion or a soul and become, like the picture of her in which Richard constantly sneaks a glance, a object of desire without thought or reason.  Incidentally, it is no coincidence that the still of the dress being blown by the subway draft is the most famous scene of the film, despite being only a publicity still, it reflects this same non-animated form of objectification.  The beauty of Monroe while important to the film, particularly when Wilder's script breaks the fourth wall and has Richard suggest that the woman hiding in his house is none other than the real life version of Marilyn Monroe, is secondary to what she is stating about the nature of a desired body both in fantasy and reality.  To Wilder and to Monroe, it is one thing for her character's performance to be one of Marilyn Monroe, but it is secondly so because she is playing into a heavily muted version of herself, one that must only be sexualized because it is realistic to be anything else.  To Monroe this is to be laughed at, and while it may not have been realized at the time, it is certainly the case now, and easily stands as Monroe's funniest performance, and were it not for the unfortunate tragedies that would follow in years to come, I would imagine that this performance would stand up to be one of the single greatest strokes of comedy genius to ever grace the screen.

Key Scene:  All that I have mentioned culminates perfectly in the Rachmaninoff scene, although there are other wonderful moments throughout the film that combine together to make Richard's fantasy world one of the most foolishly funny visions in all of cinema.

This film, along with a ton of other Monroe classics is available in a bluray box set.  The transfer is stunning and the extras are wonderful, particularly the Hayes Code meter that you can have play throughout the film, showing the degrees of "obscenity" that the picture would have received.

10 comments:

  1. Marilyn was indeed a funny, sweet, endearing actress. She was just adorable in this film. Loved your post!

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    1. Thanks, this was the film that made me realize Monroe was far more than the Hollywood sex icon I had assumed. She is funny in this movie all on her own, the fact that it happens to be a genius script and a vibrantly filmed piece of cinema only add to the experience.

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  2. Hi there! Thanks so much for your thoughtful and intelligent breakdown of The Seven Year Itch. You're right, many people remember the skirt scene but there is so much more. You did a marvelous job of bringing that "more" out! Highly enjoyable!

    Fritzi, MoviesSilently.com

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    1. Yeah, I had forgotten myself until revisiting the film that it is more famous for the publicity still, which I think says a lot to what historians and cinephiles want to remember about Monroe versus what should be remembered. I am glad you enjoyed the analysis, it was really enjoyable to sink my teeth into my favorite Monroe performance on more than just a celebratory level.

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  3. Nicely done appreciation of Marilyn's work in this film. I must revisit it soon.

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    1. Thanks! I was glad to be able to revisit the film myself, it truly is something wonderful. I might also add that the current bluray of the film is one of the best HD transfers I have seen to date.

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  4. I thought Marilyn was wonderful in this film. My favorite scene in the movie is when Richard imagination takes over and he sees: Helen and Ricky watching The Girl on TV as she warns the women of New York City about "this monster named Richard Sherman" and how Richard is "just like The Creature from the Black Lagoon".

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    1. Yes! That scene is exceptional, the scowl that Monroe throughs at the camera during that scene is one for the ages.

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  5. The legend of 'Marilyn' obscures so many of her celluloid achievements. She had such excellent comic timing - I also love her in Some Like It Hot and How To Marry A Millionaire - and it's such a shame that it gets overlooked.

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    1. I agree she is nothing short of perfect in Some Like It Hot, as well as How to Marry a Millionaire. Thanks for stopping by!

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