Running and jumping as much as he could with the George Axelrod source material, Billy Wilder manages to create a smartly funny film about lust and romance. It could go further but then the constraints of movie studios left him cutting out moments from the play. It never feels sparse, jolted or missing something, the mid 50’s movie is rife with continuous subtle smut, passion and comedic farce.
Seeing off his wife and son for the summer, as he continues to work in the heat until September; Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) goes home that night and recieves a pot-crashing welcome to a new gorgeous upstairs neighbour (Marilyn Monroe). Reading into the loss of attention in marriage and the ‘seven year itch’ in relationships, he fears his wild dreams of magnitude for women will see him having to fight off this blonde beauty. As the summer draws on and The Girl comes round, Sherman battles feelings concerning this new figure in his life.
The screenplay by Wilder and Axelrod is stuffed with Sherman nattering away to himself. It becomes more annoying in places and feels like a heavy handed tool of exposition than anything but you can forgive it slightly as you know it’s coming from that inner voice backdrop of the play it’s adapted from. The opening narration is a good lead into the subject of the plot and gives a light touch to the allusion of men being sex-driven from Native-American times to now. The numerous stories told throughout are comedic and add to the characters very nicely, rounding them out more, from Sherman’s disposition of imagination and tension in the face of this new woman to The Girl’s bimbo-like tale of bathtub entrapment selling her ditzy and billboard like appearance.
From a Saul Bass opening title sequence to the fades and studio based sets, this film does come across as more than dated but it’s not something to wholly weaken the movie. It would be more open and explicit nowadays but I prefer the charm in this played down back and forth. The play did actually write them having sex but in the film it works that Sherman sticks to his values and even in worried dips he keeps to his marital bond. That’s my opinion at least.
The main humour stems from men and their playing away in the summertime, all these working men turn into sex hungry boys like dogs with their tongues lolling about. An awful lot of this male based comedy ties in with the character of Sherman who fumbles about a lot in the wake of this new glowing presence. His visions are on point and the over acted accents of the piano seduction is brilliant to showcase how a lot of men would see their plans working out. It’s a fearful active imagination that makes ample room for a lot of comedy scenarios.
The farce of the home setting is straight out of a play also. The stronger elements of the film are when we’re in the living room or bedroom seeing events unfold. The roller-skate introduction is a fine prop to make us wait for the next trip and expectant pratfall. The bookcase is a farcical obstacle for Sherman’s desire to smoke in the absence of his wife. Then there’s bad breakfasts, paddle problems and a disastrous duet. These farcical qualities with an odd yet cool wink to namedropping Monroe make the film zing from start to end.
Tom Ewell comes from the Broadway version and gifts Sherman that nervous twitch very much needed for the character. Ewell demonstrates the root of masculine behaviour in the test of marriage and the urge of base instinct. He works from little cricks in the neck to reaching peaks of nerves in the lustful height of playing Chopsticks. Aside from that instantly iconic billowing dress imagery, Marilyn Monroe brings that bombshell look and puts a smile on your face as the bubbly girl of the story. There’s no question she’s adding to the sweltering seductive summer setting but she can act the young wanted female well and isn’t just a dumb blonde, she knows she’s desired but she’s respectful to Sherman’s shaking strength to stay with his wife and Monroe acts that balance well.
This is more than just a play of temptation; it’s textured better than an interesting driftwood formation as you see both characters come to appreciate the other during the well timed, scripted and acted comedy about flustered flights of fancy.