Don’t Scratch That Itch.

Do husbands still send their wives and children off for the summer to escape the unbearable New York heat and humidity?  Probably not.   With so many women in the workplace, they go as a family or they don’t go at all.

Oh, that feels so good. Photo by: Jason Anfinsen

But when Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch was released in 1955 it was a different world.  Husbands stayed home to take care of business.  Wives were concerned about hearth and home.

In the opening scene 38-year old Richard Sherman takes his family to the train station for their trip to Maine. The little woman, fretting and fussing over him, reminds him, “You promised to eat properly and not smoke, like Dr. Murphy told you, and you promised not to drink for a while, like Dr. Summers told you.”

Richard spends the remainder of the film trying to live up to his promises, especially the one he made at the marriage altar.   When he meets his new neighbor played by Marilyn Monroe, referred to throughout the film as “The Girl,” he has his work cut out for him.  That’s part of the fun.

Of course, the other part is watching Marilyn, all fluff and sweetness, like pink cotton candy, filling out her clothes as if they had been painted on.  She just can’t be as innocent as she appears.

It’s apparent that Marilyn is in on the joke.  “The Girl” tells Richard that she’s a model, but she had lost a job after a picture of her was published in U.S. Camera. “They got all upset… It was one of these ‘artistic pictures,” she elaborated. “You could see three different types of textures: driftwood, the sand, and me.”

Only a blind bat living in a dark cave didn’t get the reference to the flap over Monroe’s nude photo in a pin-up calendar.

The movie alludes to many other pop topics of the times.  Home alone Richard, a book editor, settles down to proofread Of Man and the Unconscious by Dr. Ludwig Brubaker.  “Some title,” he grouses, and changes it to “Sex and Violence,” so the book will sell better. “Chapter three,” he continues reading, “The Repressed Urge of the Middle Aged Man: Its Roots and Its Consequences.”  The book takes direct aim at the controversial Kinsey Reports.

When his work doesn’t hold his interest, Richard daydreams about an extracurricular affair that takes place on the beach with waves lapping at the shore.  Is anyone familiar with From Here to Eternity?  It won the 1953 Best Picture Oscar.

In another fantasy Richard channels Liberace, dressed in a white tuxedo and tickling the ivories, as he woos the babe by his side.  Hardly coincidentally the renowned pianist was wooing them at the Riviera Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas for fifty thousand dollars a week.

The Seven Year Itch is so much more than a sex comedy.  Aside from leaving us with the lasting image of Monroe standing over a subway grate hoping to catch a breeze, it coined the phrase “the seven year itch.”  It’s an affliction for which there is still no cure.


© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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