Marilyn, Billy Wilder and ‘The Seven Year Itch’

Rick McGinnis takes a closer look at The Seven Year Itch in an article for Rick’s Flicks.

“The 1955 film The Seven Year Itch is so central to the myth of Marilyn Monroe that its director, Billy Wilder – still among the most celebrated of Hollywood’s ‘auteurs’ – is often relegated to a footnote in its creation. Wilder might not have cared – while he was fond of disparaging it as one of the slightest pictures in his filmography, it was still a huge hit, so he made enough money from the film to feed his love of bespoke clothes, fine food, travel to Europe and collecting art.

Still, the acerbic Wilder couldn’t resist venting about Monroe to the press after the experience, saying that he might not work with Marilyn again in the States, but if they made the film in Paris he might be able to take painting lessons while waiting for her.

Wilder was between steady screenwriting partners when he made The Seven Year Itch … and took on George Axelrod when agent and producer Charles Feldman bought the rights for his play – widely considered unfilmable as long as the Hays Code was in force – as a vehicle for his biggest client, Marilyn Monroe.

In Sabrina, Wilder’s previous film, Humphrey Bogart’s Linus Larrabee asks his secretary to book two tickets to The Seven Year Itch as part of his big date with Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina. Axelrod’s play was still a big hit on Broadway when Wilder signed on with Feldman to direct, with Axelrod signing a contract to work on the screenplay with the proviso that Feldman and 20th Century Fox would wait until the Broadway run of his play was over before releasing the picture.

Casting Monroe as The Girl sends the film version of the story to a whole new place, and makes the whole concept of ‘The Girl’ more iconic and even profound than merely just a girl – any pretty girl, crossing the path of a man ripe for temptation.

The fact that this is a story about infidelity was the reason it was dropped by several other potential producers …  This would have been a red flag to the bull that was Billy Wilder, who had spent his career gleefully baiting the strictures of the Code. He managed to pull it off, convincing the Production Code Administration that, since no adulterous sexual acts were depicted in the script, there was no adultery in the film … In any case, by the time Wilder made Some Like It Hot in 1959, he was able to ride roughshod over taboos that would have been roadblocks just a few years earlier.

Of all of Monroe’s roles, The Girl, alongside Sugar Kane in Some Like It Hot, might embody her public persona more perfectly and completely than anyone else she played. The mixture of unalloyed sexuality and a sweetly naïve vulnerability … While apparently personally immune to Monroe’s appeal, Wilder still understood just what she embodied at the time, which probably explains why he signed up not once but twice to deal with the personal turmoil and unprofessional baggage that she brought with her to the set.

Wilder complained later that he considered the film a failure because he had to cut a single scene that hinted that Richard Sherman and The Girl had actually shared a bed, and that if he’d been able to make it at any point later in his career, he would have had them consummate their affair.

I disagree with Wilder. I think the unconsummated flirtation – more part of Sherman’s take on his time with The Girl than her own understanding of the situation; she casually admits that people throw themselves at her all the time – is what makes The Seven Year Itch such a great film about guilt, as a punishment disconnected from any actual act.

For Marilyn, however, it would be all downhill after The Seven Year Itch, even though it didn’t seem obvious at the time – to her or anyone else. Teaming up with Wilder again would help sustain the myth, even as her reputation for being difficult on set knitted itself into that public image.”