Sunday, June 2, 2013

#1,021. The Seven Year Itch (1955)

Directed By: Billy Wilder

Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell, Evelyn Keyes

Tag line: "It TICKLES and TANTALIZES! - The funniest comedy since laughter began!"

Trivia: Marilyn Monroe's white dress set a record when it was auctioned for $4.6 million in June 2011, breaking the previous record of $923,000 for Audrey Hepburn's "little black dress" from Breakfast at Tiffany's

A sex symbol as well as a pop icon, Marilyn Monroe's turbulent life off-camera (including divorces, rumored affairs, and mental breakdowns) often overshadowed her accomplishments in front of it. 

Yet, despite the chaos surrounding her, Monroe proved time and again she was a fine actress. Along with her performances in the Oscar-winning All About Eve and Howard Hawks' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she appeared in a pair of Billy Wilder comedies, the most popular being the 1959 classic Some Like it Hot

As good as Marilyn was in these pictures, though, it was her first movie with Wilder, 1955's The Seven Year Itch, that made her a star.

Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) is a happily married New York executive whose wife (Evelyn Keyes) and son (Butch Bernard) are spending the summer in the country. Unlike most husbands left alone, he has vowed to remain faithful to his wife of seven years, yet is tempted time and again by the pretty young blonde (Monroe) who just moved into the apartment upstairs.

From the moment she appears on-screen - standing at the front door holding a bag of groceries and an electric fan - Marilyn Monroe is the epitome of sensuality. But in The Seven Year Itch, she impresses as much with her comedic timing as she does her stunning blue eyes. The first night her character visits Sherman in his apartment, she dips a potato chip in a glass of champagne, then joins her host at the piano for a duet of "chopsticks", which ends abruptly when Sherman makes an awkward (and unsuccessful) pass at her. In this scene, and many others, Monroe's sex appeal is bolstered by a child-like innocence that the actress perfectly conveys.

But as wonderful as Marilyn Monroe is in The Seven Year Itch, it's Tom Ewell who carries most of the film. Given considerably more screen time than Monroe, he is also responsible for many of the movie's funnier moments, like when Sherman lets his imagination run wild, claiming that various women, including his secretary (Marguerite Chapman), a nurse (Carolyn Jones), and a family friend (Dolores Rosedale), have thrown themselves at him, giving us the details of each supposed "event" by way of a series of melodramatic flashbacks. 

Monroe definitely steals every scene she's in (who can forget the now-iconic image of her standing over a subway grate, her skirt flying up whenever a train speeds by?), but in the end, the movie owes as much to Tom Ewell as it does his gorgeous co-star.

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