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Film: The Seven Year Itch

"When something itches, my dear sir, the natural tendency is to scratch."

The 1955 Billy Wilder-directed film that marked the arguable high point of Marilyn Monroe's popularity - and a fair contender for the title of the most famous American film you've probably never seen.

Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) is a wealthy book publisher who lives with his wife and young son in a large apartment in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of New York City. It gets so hot one summer that the wife and kid decide to take a vacation up to Maine, with Richard staying behind to hold down the fort.

Richard has been having disagreements with his wife lately, and feels repressed. Even so, he agrees (at first) not to smoke, drink alcohol, or eat meat for the duration of his time alone. But one evening, as he is returning home from dinner at a vegetarian restaurant, he slips on one of his son's roller skates, hits his head....and, in the form of the blonde, curvy Girl (guess who), Hilarity Ensues.

Actually based on a 1952 stage comedy in which Ewell also appeared - and which included an actual extramarital affair between Richard Sherman and The Girl, which was censored out in the film version.

Also is famous for popularizing the Marilyn Maneuver, which is discussed in more detail below.


This film provides examples of:

  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Played to the hilt. There's even a stereotypically Germanic professor on the subject - and, yes, he has Richard lie on a couch as he questions him.
  • All There in the Manual: The publicity shots of Marilyn's "subway scene" are a lot more revealing (and famous) than those in the film itself (which were edited heavily to appease the censors).
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Believe it or not, champagne is recommended as an accompaniment to snack foods, since the carbonation cleanses the palate of salt and grease. The Girl almost certainly didn't know this, though, making her discovery more a case of Genius Ditz in action.
  • Amusing Injuries: Richard keeps getting a crick in his neck.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Richard's wife always asks him what happened at the office when he comes home. When he's alone, he considers answering this: "I shot Mr. Brady in the head, made violent love to Miss Morris and set fire to 300,000 copies of Little Women. That's what happened. What can happen at the office?"
  • Bare Your Midriff: The Girl lifting her blouse as she enjoys the Shermans' air conditioner (no navel, though).
  • Beach Kiss: Appears in one of Richard's Imagine Spots, spoofing From Here to Eternity.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: At least, that's how Richard views Tom MacKenzie.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Averted: Richard talks a lot when he's by himself, but not to us. More like Snubbing The Fourth Wall.
  • Catch Phrase: The Girl makes frequent use of the word, "elegant."
  • Celebrity Paradox:
    Tom MacKenzie: What blonde in the kitchen?
    Richard: Wouldn't you like to know! Maybe it's Marilyn Monroe!
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The pro-nudism waitress at the vegetarian restaurant Richard visits.
  • Commercial Switcheroo: Richard worriedly imagines the Girl turning her Dazzledent toothpaste ad into a detailed warning for other young women not to get involved in his nearly-adulterous activities. The daydream goes From Bad to Worse as Richard imagines his wife and son watching this commercial on a portable TV.
  • Contemptible Cover: Richard's job is to publish books with such covers even classic literature, such as Little Women (retitled as The Secrets of a GIRLS DORMITORY).
  • Costume Porn: It's a real shame this movie didn't even get nominated for an Academy Award for costumes. Among William Travilla's many creations for Marilyn, particular standouts include an absurdly famous billowing off-white dress (see Marilyn Maneuver below) and a spangled gown with zigzagging tiger stripes. Meow.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Tom Mackenzie's hayride with Helen Sherman. ("Even the horses are wearing blinkers.")
  • Cutting the Knot: There's a boarded-up trapdoor between Richard and the Girl's apartments. The Girl just uses the claw of a hammer to pull out the nails, and the trapdoor falls away.
  • Dumb Blonde: The Girl is arguably the Trope Codifier here, although even she shows some cleverness - particularly in her final lines of the film.
  • Fake-Out Opening: The film opens with this narration:
    Narrator: The island of Manhattan derives its name from its earliest inhabitants - the Manhattan Indians. They were a peaceful tribe, setting traps, fishing, hunting. And there was a custom among them. Every July when the heat and the humidity on the island became unbearable, they would send their wives and children away for the summer, up the river to the cooler highlands, or if they could afford it, to the seashore. The husbands of course, would remain behind on the steaming island to attend to business - setting traps, fishing, and hunting. Actually, our story has nothing whatsoever to do with Indians. It plays 500 years later. We only brought up the subject to show you that in all that time, nothing has changed.
  • The Fifties: Choose just about any frame of this film, and you're looking at it undiluted. Interestingly, being made almost smack in the middle of the decade, The Seven Year Itch appears to strike an aesthetic and ideological balance between the more "traditional" early years of the decade and the "hipness" of its later years.
  • Follow the Leader: At the time, very few movies opened with Artistic Title sequences. Saul Bass supplied the zany credits sequence here, and its success with audiences pretty much made his career. And in the 1960s and '70s, it seemed like every movie comedy opened with a cartoonish sequence of some sort.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: A number of examples, including some where the radar apparently wasn't working at all!
  • Goofy Print Underwear: Richard is seen undressing, and we get a good look at his polka-dotted boxer shorts.
  • Happily Married: Richard and his wife.
  • Hello, Nurse!: The Girl.
  • Henpecked Husband: Richard sees himself as one (even though he really isn't), and uses this characterization as a persecution complex to justify all his (mostly imagined) indiscretions.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Near constantly.
    Richard: Let me tell you, Helen loves me.
    Tom MacKenzie Sure, she loves you!
    Richard: She loves me because I'm sweet and gentle and worried, and nervous and shy and tender! (knocks him out)
  • Imagine Spot: Richard conjures up several.
  • Lipstick Mark: The Girl deliberately leaves one on Richard's collar at the end, all for the purpose of making Helen jealous. Apparently, we're supposed to feel happy that Richard is finally "standing up for himself" to his "mean, bitchy wife."
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: The Girl proves to be one for Richard (although unintentionally, and without the "manic" part).
  • Marilyn Maneuver: With the subway grate on the corner of Lexington and 52nd Streets. (It's not quite as revealing as it could have been, though; see All There in the Manual above.)
  • Monster Sob Story: In-story example: Richard and the Girl watch Creature from the Black Lagoon together, and she says she felt sorry for the Creature: "He was kinda scary-looking, but he wasn't really all bad. I think he just craved a little affection - you know, a sense of being loved and needed and wanted."
    • And the genius of this seemingly throwaway speech is that we have no way of knowing whether the Girl is speaking metaphorically about Richard or herself! Who is "the Creature" here? Is it Richard, who feels self-conscious about growing old and no longer being appealing to women (like a "creature")? Or is it the Girl, whom one can imagine often feeling like a freak (that is, a "monster") due to being ogled as a sex object. Or perhaps we could Take a Third Option here, and maintain that both characters feel themselves part of this analogy and therefore - despite literally being strangers - are drawn to each other.
  • Moral Guardians: The Legion of Decency (a Roman Catholic pressure group) demanded the removal of a large cutout of The Girl pushing down her blowing skirt that was used to promote the premiere.
  • Mr. Imagination: Richard has an overactive imagination - he once imagines his wife telling him this.
  • No Name Given: The Girl's name is never revealed.
  • Not so Above It All: Richard, after the first half-hour of the movie.
  • Oh, Crap: Richard many times, especially when he imagines his wife coming home to literally murder him. Even culminates in a Heroic BSOD as Richard drops the toast he is buttering and inadvertently butters his own hand!
  • Opera Gloves: Richard imagines the Girl in glittery black Opera Gloves with a strapless tiger-stripe gown.
  • Saying Too Much:
    Richard: I can explain everything: the stairs, the cinnamon toast, the blonde in the kitchen!
    Tom Mackenzie: Wait! Wait a minute, Dicky-boy! What blonde in the kitchen?
  • Shout-Out: One of Richard's Imagine Spots spoofs the famous beach scene from From Here to Eternity.
  • Sexy Secretary: Miss Morris.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Subverted at first, when Richard mentions that one of his doctors has ordered him not to smoke during periods of hot weather, and he locks his cigarettes away in a table drawer. But after the Girl shows up and (inadvertently) encourages him to rebel, he unlocks the drawer and helps himself to a cigarette - and suffers no ill effects from it.
  • Spiritual Successors: Somewhat surprisingly, this film has yet to be remade for modern-day cinematic audiences. (An attempted remake in the 1980s came to nothing after Al Pacino turned down the Richard Sherman role; meanwhile, it was remade as a TV movie in Germany no less than twice, and an unidentified project called Seven Year Switch is supposedly in development.) However, its basic themes have inspired quite a few films in its wake, including 1984's The Woman In Red (which even paid tribute to the Marilyn Maneuver scene) and 1999's Best Picture Oscar winner American Beauty (which took the basic theme, made it even kinkier, and wrapped it up with a Downer Ending).
  • This Loser Is You: Richard, arguably.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Comedic variant, as Richard, in one of his awkward monologues, muses that "Something happens to this town in the summer...." and then elaborates a bit by describing all the mischief that "summer bachelors" in New York get into when their families are gone and nobody knows what they're up to.
  • Wolf Whistle: The trailer has one play during the Marilyn Maneuver.
  • Woman in White: Well, who do you think?


Marx BrothersScrewball ComedySome Like It Hot
RififiFilms of the 1950sSwamp Diamonds
Vampires SuckCreator/ 20 th Century FoxSexy Beast
The Hot RockCreator/Magnetic VideoThe Long Hot Summer
Chess with DeathImageSource/Live-Action FilmsMarilyn Maneuver

alternative title(s): The Seven Year Itch
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