Dream Girl: Marilyn in ‘The Seven Year Itch’

Writing for Vogue, Hayley Maitland recommends Some Like It Hot among ’13 Sun-Drenched Films To Watch Before Your Next Holiday.’ The movie takes us from a freezing Chicago on St. Valentine’s Day, 1929, to a luxury hotel in sunny Miami. However, diehard Monroe fans will know that her definitive summer movie was an earlier collaboration with director Billy Wilder, The Seven Year Itch.

In ‘The Blonde in the Kitchen,’ an article for online film journal Bright Wall/Dark Room, Sabina Stent ponders what a New York summer means for the 1950s male libido, and why Marilyn’s character (named simply ‘The Girl’) is such an ideal fantasy figure.

“Summer and Billy Wilder’s film are intrinsically connected in my mind. Titled after the psychological theory of boredom and general malaise that occurs in the seventh year of marriage—a condition that significantly rises at the height of summer—Wilder’s film perfectly captures the primal effects of intense heat … The film—essentially about one man’s mid-life crisis in the height of summer—has always struck me as interesting in part because of its overall tone of seediness. Tom Ewell (reprising the part he originally played in the stage production) portrays Richard Sherman as a predatory leech very successfully … This is the clincher: all the men in The Seven Year Itch come across as, to put it bluntly, desperate. Monroe is a manifestation of all of their heat-induced fantasies, almost as though the high temperatures and male desperation have summoned her like a genie from a lamp. She is a non-threatening presence, immune to the male lust that she faces while maintaining the image of a male summer fantasy on a plate. More interestingly, we never actually see her engage with any other women. This only adds to her illusory, phantom-like nature.

Monroe may look like a bombshell, but the role—essentially constructed around her image—is that of a sweet, largely naïve girl who is oblivious to her married neighbour’s predatory advances. Always polite and courteous—she continues to ask about his family—the only thing she desires from Sherman is his air conditioning … There are fewer things more fantastic than watching an incredibly sexually potent woman make a man crumble without any flirtation. Every single word that Monroe utters is a turn-on for Sherman and, while she remains oblivious, he finds all of her actions incredibly seductive. Monroe was actually a wonderful comedian, something she is rarely given enough credit for, and perfectly uses her ‘kooky’ blonde image to maximum effect.

Monroe’s performance combines impeccable comic timing and physical comedy with an inherent self-awareness; her ability to acknowledge and ‘send up’ her own self-image is at the core of The Seven Year Itch, and is why it remains so endearing. Furthermore, it links back to the idea that she is a mirage, a heat-created fantasy created by the male imagination. A walking, talking representation of the male gaze. She is an object to be visually consumed; a delicacy to be optically devoured—concepts only strengthened by Sherman’s tendency to concoct fabricated stories in his mind.

The Girl? An illusion, a product of fantasy caused by one man’s sexual lust, rising temperatures and irrepressible sex appeal. Even her costume is telling. Clad in virginal all-white or blush-pink she is a stereotypical apparition, a figment of the male imagination. Then we reach that scene—yes, that iconic moment: white dress billowing out from her body as she stands over the subway vent, momentarily exposing her legs, and gleefully exclaiming ‘isn’t it delicious?’ What I always find curious about this scene is its striptease element: it is extremely brief, we do not see much, and it is all implied and left to our imagination … It is a playful moment—a hint, a tease, a forbidden glimpse, a thrill, made all the more honest by how clearly The Girl relishes the coolness around her legs, delightfully and openly expressing her feelings. She is not ashamed or embarrassed that she has been exposed, and why should she be? It is summer, people wear far less on the street and at the beach, and it is so hot you need to find the coolness wherever you can.

The Seven Year Itch is a summer film, but it is Marilyn Monroe’s summer film. It is an exploration of the male fantasy—his ego, his tendency to crumble when an attractive women looks at him during the height of summer. Manhattan is Summer Camp for men, the City turning into a bunch of lecherous overheated randy business men with Monroe as the beacon of good behaviour and decency.”