Throwback Thursday: The Seven Year Itch

The Seven Year Itch is a story about a summer in Manhattan where men work and cheat on their wives as their families vacation for the summer. A man trying to refrain from cheating falls into fantasies involving his upstairs neighbor (Marilyn Monroe).

The movie opens and already we have both misogyny and racism, so welcome to 1955. Where white people played Native Americans and the only African American people play busboys. This movie is incredibly misogynistic, like stunningly so. The whole premise is a man fantasizing about all of the women in his life being obsessed with him while his wife and bratty kid are in Maine. Of course he has to stay home in Manhattan and work. God forbid any of the married women have jobs, or this whole plot would be irrelevant.

Mr. Sherman, the main character, is bored with his life, often satisfying his need to be superior by slipping into sexist fantasies. He desperately wants to feel important. He can’t smoke or drink, and women don’t like him besides his wife so he feels emasculated, seeking hyper-masculine fantasies. So he fantasizes that he is some kind of hot, irresistible man. He talks about his wife getting old and ugly, since she’s 31 now (gasp!) and he hasn’t aged at all. He fantasizes about just about everyone he has some kind of power over. A friend, a nurse (who he smacks around a bit), and his secretary he tries to convince himself are secretly all in love with him.

The main man, Richard, is so creepy. I can’t deal with it. His fantasies are so creepy and almost predatory. He doesn’t cheat on his wife, but it’s all he talks about. He is a symbol of the patriarchy of the whole era. Every man is so predatory in this movie its so uncomfortable. The 1950s were such a different time, and this was considered normal behavior. Which is unfortunate. This is such a male gaze movie, and poor Marilyn existed as a sexualized sub plot. Poor Marilyn is always cast as the ditzy, sexually freewheeling blonde who exists to tempt men.

The best part of the whole film is Marilyn, who combats the blatant misogyny is the best of ways. She plays her own woman, combating his fantasies by being goofy and charming, and doing what she wants to do. As he believes his fantasy will finally come true, she turns it around by enthusiastically playing chopsticks on piano, for no other reason than she’s having a great time doing it. He tries to make out with her, and she goes for potato chips, which she dunks in champagne, because she wants to. The whole movie follows this kind of structure, the main protagonist (antagonist?) will fantasize something elaborate, and then act as if that fantasy were true and nobody else will live up to his expectations.

He doesn’t cheat on his wife, but after fantasizing about his wife cheating on him, he pursues Marilyn again. That’s the other thing, Marilyn’s character doesn’t even have a name and she is the only good part of this movie. She’s listed as The Girl. Still, she doesn’t sleep with him but every time she is onscreen she is sexualized by every other man around her. In the end Richard decides he needs his wife and leaves for the summer. I still don’t really know what to take away from this. That men are terrible and the minute wives aren’t there they all go “hunting” which they literally call it.

The movie is only good because Marilyn dominates every scene she’s in and she really is a captivating presence. She has to deal with the poor writing that always makes her seem dumb or hypersexual, but she plays it as best she can. She was just such a presence, and this is one of her better films. I also love Gentlemen Prefer Blondes where she is given so much more agency and attention, but this one equally shows her ability to command screen time.

Amy’s Recommendation: 6/10


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