Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Classic Movie Challenge: The Seven Year Itch

Do you know how hard it is to find an image from the movie The Seven Year Itch without it being a still from the subway scene?  It took me five minutes to find a photo of Marilyn alone that I considered to be halfway decent.  

Marilyn's character (The Girl) considers how dreadful it would be to spend another night in her apartment that doesn't have A/C as she enjoys her Richard's cool apartment.

Since we've all seen the iconic imagery that is Marilyn with her skirt blown up over her knees, I will spare you the redundancy.  :)

The reason I got into watching classic movies was because of the film My Week With Marilyn.  Michelle Williams did an amazing job portraying an actress on the edge and I wanted to know more about Marilyn Monroe.  (As well as other iconic actors and actresses from Hollywood's golden years.)  This movie was the first Mayriln Monroe movie I had ever seen.  I must say, I was taken back by the context of the film.  The story was adapted from a Broadway play in which the men of Manhattan send their wives and children to the countryside during the heat of the summer for an opportunity to misbehave.  I found this to be shocking for a time that is known for the Leave it to Beaver vision of the perfect nuclear family.  Of course people have been behaving badly since the dawn of time, but I didn't know that a movie like this could be made int he 1950s.

It turns out, it was toned down from the Broadway play considerably by the Haze Office that censored Hollywood.  Films like this one would eventually make the Haze Office a thing of the past.  Maybe you haven't seen the movie and you are wondering, "How scandalous could it be?"  Well, I was pretty shocked from start to finish.

Upon dropping off his wife and bratty son at the train station our "protagonist," Richard, immediately begins oogling pretty women.  He vows to be good, unlike some other men who drink, smoke, and get tattooed.  He takes himself to a vegetarian restaurant for dinner where everything is made out of soy and the waitress forgoes a tip and instead asks him to donate to the nudist cause.  She, of course, is not pretty.  Richard goes home and during his narration he makes sure to mention that he likes his neighbors, even the two male interior decorators who live together above him.  He monologues about how he would describe his day to his absent wife, "Oh you know, I shot my boss through the head and then made violent love to my secretary..."  What the hell?!  This guy is a creep.  Ten minutes in and I hated the protagonist.  Not only is he a creep, he is also paranoid to the point of schizophrenia and he is struggling to keep his vices in check.  Clearly, this man has no self discipline.

He is a repressed middle age man, according the the work of a psychologist from the film.  Richard goes on to fake a conversation with his wife about all of the women who have thrown themselves at him.  He tells her that they cannot help it, he arouses something within them.  Sure, I sneered to myself, you arouse disdain.  Pig.  The women he fantasizes about are portrayed as hysteric nymphomaniacs.  He slaps a nurse in one scene and in the next, he pushes his wife's best friend off of him and she welcomes it and tells him that he knows she'd come crawling back for more if he would let her.  Clearly, a man wrote the play.  Where the comedy is in this, I'm not sure.  Richard criticizes the looks of his perfectly beautiful 31 year old wife and within the next few minutes, after a phone call from her, flies into a jealous rage because a male friend has stopped by where she is staying in the country.  I know, I know, Richard is imagining things.  He has an active imagination.  My favorite character with an active imagination is Walter Mitty, at least his daydreams are fun.  And not degrading.  (You should really read the short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty- it is my favorite.)

I was beginning to sincerely regret renting this film and I wondered how it could ever have been as popular as it was.  Then Marilyn Monroe came on screen as the sub-letter of his gay neighbors and I understood why it was popular: you cannot take your eyes off of her.  She was a far more compelling character than her male counterpart.  She's not the most amazing actress, but there was an undeniable magic to her.   She is earnest and fun.  She is a girl who eats potato chips while drinking champagne.  Richard immediately falls head over heels for her and invites her into his apartment to be neighborly.  She agrees and is immediately pleased at her choice because he has costly A/C and the apartment she is sub-letting does not.  He lies about his wife and son and even tries to put the moves on her at the end of the night.  When she refuses, he feels guilty and kicks her out.

The next day at work Richard fears that his wife will catch wind of the indiscretion and he says aloud that he would kill Monroe's character (known only as The Girl) with his bare hands if she blabs.  This is what I mean about schizophrenic.  Add misogynistic to the list.  He disintegrates into ticks and paranoid visions while he fights his amorous desires.  When he finally makes the decision to act on them he gets thwarted.  (This grinds my gears- he doesn't have the chance to fight his urges, fate decides for him, he won't cheat.)  Meanwhile, bless her heart, Monroe remains as likeable as ever.  Sure, she is a bit of a ditz, but she's got heart.  She figures out that Richard has the hots for her and she kisses him on the cheek (and once on the lips- yuck) because she appreciate his kindnesses.  When he laments that he is a wallflower, a nobody, and that his wife would never feel jealous of other women putting the moves on him, she assures him that he is someone special and that girls don't prefer handsome men all of the time.  Most women are looking for men with good hearts.  (Let me just say that she has not seen him at his craziest, but if she had, I think she would have avoided him like the plague.  Then again, she wanted to enjoy his A/C.)  Eventually, thankfully, the movie ends and Richard makes the decision to be with his wife and son on holiday.

Honestly, I didn't like this movie.  I know you are thinking, Gee, I couldn't tell.  But I am glad I watched it anyway.  It gave me a deeper appreciation for Monroe.  I never understood why so many young women idolize her.  I think some do for the wrong reasons, but she was talented behind all of that tragic beauty.  Monroe was falling to pieces behind the set of this film.  The images of her on the subway grate drew a wedge between her and her then husband, Joe DiMaggio.  He was embarrassed and wanted a wife that would stay at home while she wanted to build her career.  Less than ten years later, Monroe, the icon, would meet her untimely death.  I have a couple more of Monroe's films on my Netflix queue: Some Like It Hot, Monkey Business, and Gentleman Prefer Blondes.  I hope I like those more than The Seven Year Itch.  But if this film was any indication, I am sure I will enjoy Monroe's raw star power despite the quality of the stories.

(Coming up soon: Classic Movie Challenge: The Gay Divorcee)

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