Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Tom Ewell is a Manhattan publishing executive, getting close to middle age, and looking forward to a ritual that, according to this movie, seems to have been mandatory among businessmen of a certain age back in the 50s: sending his wife and child away to a resort (in this case in Maine) for the summer. Theoretically it's to get them out of the heat and sweat of the big city, but it's also a vacation for all these businessmen, many of whom plan to have a wild time while the family's away.  His wife makes him promise to stop smoking and drinking while she's gone, and he gives it the old college try, but he also winds up bored silly in his apartment, talking to himself constantly while trying to resist the lure of cigarettes and alcohol. The book he's currently editing is by a psychologist who posits the theory of the "seven year itch," a yen to stray that men get seven years into their marriage. He realizes he's been married for seven years and we see fantasy sequences in which he is set upon by the many horny women still left in the city, but when one such woman suddenly pops up in real life, a new neighbor living right above him, his resistance drops to near zero. He meets the neighbor (Marilyn Monroe) when she accidentally drops a potted plant off her balcony onto his. Angry at first, he looks up and sees not only a lovely, young, buxom blonde, but also a lovely blonde who is next to naked—her undies are in the refrigerator to stay cool because her apartment is so hot. He invites her down for a drink, imagining a spectacular seduction scene, and she certainly seems willing to play around, but despite many chances, he gets no further than a kiss. The next night, however, she asks if she can sleep over at his air-conditioned place. He worries about what the other neighbors and visitors will think, but she discovers that a door in her floor connecting her apartment with his which can be opened and invites herself in. Will he give in to the itch?

This film is famous for its iconic image of Monroe standing over a sidewalk grate, the breeze blowing her skirt practically up to her head—but the funny thing is, that ubiquitous full-length image of her doesn't actually appear in the movie. All we see is the skirt billowing from the waist down, a cut to her face, then a cut down to the skirt again. The full image was saved for publicity uses only, apparently. Overall, this sex farce has dated just as much as any sex farce, which means, quite a bit. I've read that in the play, the husband actually does sleep with the girl (who is never named, and only referred to in the cast list as The Girl), but of course under the Production Code, an unambiguous reference to adultery would not have been tolerated, so here their relationship is more chaste. However, though Ewell does a nice job in a role which requires him to be onscreen every moment of the film, his sexual charge is underplayed—he's got kind of a goofy, boyish appeal, like Robert Morse in the 60s, but had the role been portrayed by an actor with more physicality (Jack Lemmon, perhaps, who was boyish and sexy), the sparks might have been more interesting. I'm not a Monroe fan, but she does a nice job here keeping Ewell and the audience off-guard about how far she's willing to go with her flirtation. Because there are so many fantasy sequences interspersed throughout, it's tempting to read everything that happens with the Monroe character as fantasy, but I'm not sure that reading can be sustained. Evelyn Keyes is the wife and Sonny Tufts is the beefcake guy that she winds up spending time with in Maine, which makes Ewell jealous even as he plans to be unfaithful. Carolyn Jones appears is a small role as one of Ewell's fantasy conquests. Amusing, but if your tolerance for Ewell is low, you probably won’t make it all the way through the film. [DVD]

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