Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Seven Year Itch (1955) - Not the best Monroe vehicle, but some interesting commentary on consumerism

Viewing context:
The third film in Tasha’s picks’ Marylin Monroe season.

Directed by Billy Wilder (Seen Double Indemnity and Some Like it Hot, not seen - but want to - The Apartment and Sunset Boulevard. Screenplay also by Wilder, along with George Axelrod (Manchurian Candidate and Breakfast at Tiffany’s) who also wrote the play on which the film is based.

What Happened:
The film opens to the native people of Manhattan, shipping the women and children up river to where it is cool, in order for the men to stay and work (well... get distracted). Fast forward to 1950s and same ritual is going on. Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell), an individual with the wildest imagination, is left to torment himself, trying to resist smoking, drinking and most of all, the ditsy but beautiful Marilyn Monroe (whose character remains nameless) who has moved into the apartment above for the summer.

What it did particularly well:
The initially unassuming Sherman, who seemed a far cry from the charming, smooth talking, wise cracking lead of the usual Monroe vehicles turned out to be the main crux of the whole thing. His rants; the explanations and justifications he came up with in order to carry on attempting to lure Monroe to his apartment, and then the lengths to which his imagination stretched, foreseeing what trouble he would be in if anybody so much as suspected this was going on, worked as great entertainment.

Unimpressed or didn't quite reach potential:
It seemed better suited to the stage. Not that this made it less watchable, but it seemed a little uncinematic at times. It also took me a little while to warm to Sherman, although, as I lay out above, once I did he was great.

It was pretty blatant in its explanation of being about a combination of middle aged suppression, psychoanalysis/the unconscious, and then how this ties in to marketing and branding. One humerous (yet true enough) statement mentions how 'this soda' - reads long list of ingredients - 'can be better for me than some simple scotch, water and fresh lemon'. Another example is how Monroe's character herself was used to advertise tooth paste. Yet another example was that something as ludicrous as calories can be a unique selling point; this was highlighted as something a little pedantic that was obsessed over. Add to this, the metanarrative function of Monroe herself; a brand, intentionally used to sell the actual film, which can be read as a self acknowledging feature ratifying the film's principles. Note that we never even know the characters name; another indicator that the film intentionally acknowledges Monroe as a brand.

Performance of the film:
Once I came round to him it was Tom Ewell. Monroe was simply playing ditsy here, whereas I have much preffered her in those roles where she appears ditsy, or plays up the fact that she is, whereas she is actually scheming about something.

Scene of the film:
The scene in which he is trying to be sophisticated and speaking to her about psychoanalysis, yet she is paying no attention whatsoever and simply musing on how she can replace or improve the performance of her ineffective fan. It was really funny and spoke volumes about the characters; his belief that he neeeded to appear sophisticated and worldly, and the fact that she was so vacant minded that all she could do was concentrate on the most immediate problem at hand.

Final Word:
The dialogue, and the ability to create a fascinating character and put him in a situation that heightens everything that is enjoyable about his eccentricities made the whole performance aspect of the film really enjoyable.

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