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Film / The Seven Year Itch

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"Isn't it delicious?"

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

The Seven Year Itch is a 1955 Billy Wilder-directed Romantic Comedy film that arguably marked the 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 middle-aged 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 and win the bread.

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 and hits his head. Enter a blonde and curvy girl (guess who), who just happens to start living in the apartment above Richard's. Hilarity Ensues.

Based on George Axelrod's 1952 stage comedy of the same name, in which Ewell also appeared... and which included an actual extramarital affair between Richard Sherman and The Girl, which was censored out of the film version.

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

This film provides examples of:

  • The '50s: Choose just about any frame of this film, and you're looking at them undiluted. Even Richard and The Girl had just finished watching the Creature from the Black Lagoon before the subway vents scene. 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.
  • All Men Are Perverts: The basic premise of the movie. As soon as the wives are away, most men ogle the first female they see.
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Played to the hilt. There's even a stereotypically Germanic professor on the subject - and, invoked 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).
  • Amusing Injuries: Richard keeps getting a crick in his neck. And tripping on Ricky's roller-skates.
  • 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?"
  • Beach Kiss: Appears in one of Richard's Imagine Spots, spoofing From Here to Eternity.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Averted: Richard talks a lot when he's by himself, but not to us. More like Snubbing The Fourth Wall.
  • Brick Joke: The other roller skate.
  • Catchphrase: The Girl makes frequent use of the word, "elegant."
  • Celebrity Paradox: When Tom asks Richard about the "blonde in the kitchen", Richard says,"Wouldn't you like to know! Maybe it's Marilyn Monroe!" Then again, considering The Girl is unnamed throughout the film (and the credits), it's possible the character in question really is 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.
  • 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.")
  • Cry for the Devil: Invoked. 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."
  • 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.
  • Do Wrong, Right: When Richard threatens to kill the girl to avoid temptation, Dr Brubaker sarcastically says it may solve his problem, but advises that murder is exceptionally difficult, and since Richard has already bungled an assault, he should probably work on that before moving up to more difficult crimes.
  • Double Standard: As one DVD case explains, for Richard, "keeping his marriage vows in the face of her flirtations proves tough"... Yes, so tough that he barely attempts it, and spends most of the film proactively pursuing an affair with her - meanwhile she's the only one of the two who ever actively fends the other off.
  • 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.
  • Good Bad Girl: The Girl is implied to be this, since she's genuinely sweet, compassionate, and understanding, but she didn't like living in a club since they had a strict 1:30am curfew. She also implies that she gets marriage proposals all the time from various beaus, but she doesn't want to settle down yet. That's why she prefers the company of married men—no matter how crazy things get, they'll never ask her to marry them.
  • Goofy Print Underwear: Richard is seen undressing, and we get a good look at his polka-dotted boxer shorts.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Richard imagines his wife as this (she's not), although he is actually crazy jealous of his wife hanging out with a good-looking friend of hers (who happens to be a romance novelist)—to the point that he goes into a jealous rage and punches the guy at the end.
  • Happily Married: Richard and his wife.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: Guess who?
  • 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.
  • High-Class Gloves: Richard imagines the Girl in glittery black opera gloves with a strapless tiger-stripe gown.
  • 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). The Trope Namer and Trope Codifier.
  • Mr. Imagination: Richard has an overactive imagination - he once imagines his wife telling him this.
  • Newhart Phonecall: Richard has a couple of these with his wife.
  • Nice Guys Finish Last: Richard thinks this about himself under all of his Imagine Spots, but The Girl convinces him otherwise.
  • 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!
  • 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?
  • Sexy Secretary: Miss Morris.
  • Shout-Out:
    • One of Richard's Imagine Spots spoofs the famous beach scene from From Here to Eternity.
    • In another Imagine Spot, Richard's wife tells him Kruhulik is actually a private eye she hired to watch him and that his real name is Johnny Dollar. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was a popular radio detective show of the era.
    • Richard and the Girl go to the movies and see Creature from the Black Lagoon together.
    • For some reason, a newspaper clipping from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) is on the wall of our hero's office.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


Robot Chicken - Tacos

Robot Chicken's parodic take on Marilyn Monroe's iconic subway scene, where she "breaks wind" from eating tacos. From the "Secrets of History Revealed" sketches.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / MarilynManeuver

Media sources: