Friday, August 27, 2004

Classics I Somehow Missed: The Seven-Year Itch (1955)

I want to say I don’t know this one got past me. I’m a huge fan of both Billy Wilder and George Axelrod, who co-wrote this adaptation of his play.

But I do know how it got past me. It stars Marilyn Monroe, in a role designed to flaunt her desirability. I may as well just spill it: I’m not a Monroe fan. She could be enormously effective, especially when she got to do musical numbers as in Wilder’s SOME LIKE IT HOT. But I never sparked to her as an actress. And all that ‘Candle in the Wind’ mythologizing doesn’t help. Some gentlemen prefer brunettes.

It won’t come as a surprise, then, when I say I didn’t care for this movie. Marilyn is quite good in it, but her presence throws the film off-balance; the story’s not supposed to be about her, but her allure overwhelms it. The charisma-deficient Tom Ewell isn’t up to the challenge of sharing the screen with her. (The DVD includes test footage of the then-unknown Walter Matthau auditioning for Ewell’s role. Matthau, a future collaborator with both Wilder and Axelrod, would have been ideal.)

The Production Code then in place made matters worse. It barred any humorous references to adultery, so a farce about a man’s guilt at cheating on his wife became a farce about a man’s guilt at not cheating on his wife. But thinking about it very hard.

There are laughs to be sure, but ultimately the material proves thin. It’s a male fantasy piece about a gorgeous girl who’s oblivious to the effect she has on men, and the schmuck she gets involved with simply because he lives downstairs. Axelrod deals with similar themes far more effectively in his play WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? So does Wilder in KISS ME, STUPID. But that movie’s almost universally reviled while this one is in ‘The Diamond Collection,’ so what do I know?

Miscellaneous: Link

Republican writer/producer Rob Long measures the wattage of the stars who will appear at next week’s RNC.