The notion of a husband cheating on his wife was considered a completely unacceptable action onscreen during the 1950’s. It was a time when the censors had a field day deciding what they believed was morally accepted. That is why The Seven Year Itch (1955) succeeded and failed at the same time as a film. It failed because Director Billy Wilder was hamstrung by film censor rules and a moral code of decency. Wilder always personally felt that his vision for the film was unjustly compromised. But it succeeded because the forced changes allowed it to play out as a wonderful comedy/fantasy film, teasing the audience about infidelity without actually going too far unlike the stage play it was based on, which actually showed the husband cheating on his wife. For Wilder, who was known for pushing the envelope, by showing themes no one else would dare do, it was a compromise that he eventually accepted and surprisingly for him payed dividends.
It was Marilyn Monroe and actor Tony Ewell that Wilder turned to, to bring to life on-screen the story of a husband’s fantasy of seducing a beautiful young model, after his wife of seven years and their son go to a resort in Maine for vacation. In many ways the success of the film was a coup for everyone involved. Marilyn in particular shines with her comedic touch, plushy personality and sultry charm as ‘The girl’. But for the most part, its enjoyable watching Richard Sherman (Tony Ewell) make a fool of himself as tries to impress and woo Marilyn’s character.
I cannot escape without mentioning one of the best scenes in cinema history that took place in the film, where Marilyn stood over a subway grate and her white dress blew up in the air by a train passing underneath. “Ooh do you feel the breeze from the subway, isn’t it delicious,” Marilyn cooed while shrewdly catching her dress before it blows up over her head. The genius of the scene lies in its subtle camera work, allowing the cinema public to feel faint enough without going into a catatonic state.
Talking about feeling faint, prior to the scene being shot on a Hollywood set, photographers and thousands of bystanders were treated to a mock night shoot in Lexington, which was cleverly leaked in an attempted to promote the film. That famous night a playful Marilyn delighted a large crowd allowing her white cocktail dress to be caught up over a subway grates breeze while photographers recorded the moment for posterity. At the end of the night there was no doubt whatsoever of the publicity stunts huge success for 20 Century Fox executives. The only bystander it seemed that was unimpressed was Marilyn’s husband Joe DiMaggio. Apparently later that night after the mock shoot Monroe and Di Maggio argued about Marilyn’s provocative behaviour. It probably didn’t come as a surprise to industry insiders when Marilyn filed for divorce soon after.