The Seven Year Itch is a romantic comedy 1955 American film based on a three-act play with the same name by George Axelrod. The film was co-written and directed by Billy Wilder, and starred Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell, reprising his Broadway role. It contains one of the most iconic images of the 20th century – Monroe standing on a subway grate as her white dressis blown by a passing train. The titular phrase, which refers to declining interest in a monogamous relationship after seven years of marriage, has been used by psychologists.
Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) is a nerdy, faithful, middle-aged publishing executive with an overactive imagination and a mid-life crisis, whose wife Helen (Evelyn Keyes) and son Ricky (Butch Bernard) are summering in Maine. When he returns home with the kayak paddle Ricky accidentally left behind, he meets a woman (Marilyn Monroe), a commercial actress and former model who rents the apartment upstairs while in town to make television spots for a brand of toothpaste. That evening, he works on proofing a book in which psychiatrist Dr. Brubaker (Oskar Homolka) claims that a significant proportion of men have extra-marital affairs in the seventh year of marriage. He has an imaginary conversation with Helen, trying to convince her, in three fantasy sequences, that he is irresistible to women, including his secretary, a nurse and her bridesmaid, but she laughs it off. A tomato plant then crashes into his lounge chair; the woman upstairs apologizes for accidentally knocking it over, and Richard invites her down for a drink.
He waits for her to get dressed, including in underwear she says she keeps cool in her icebox. When she arrives, a vision in pink, they have a drink and he lies about being married. When she sees his wedding ring, he backtracks but she is unconcerned, having no designs on him, only on his air-conditioning. He has a fantasy that she is a femme fatale overcome by his playing of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto. In reality, she prefers Chopsticks, which they play together. Richard, overcome by his fantasies, awkwardly grabs at her, causing them to fall off the piano bench. He apologizes for his indiscretion but she says it happens to her all the time. Guilt-ridden, however, he asks her to leave.A famous image entered popular culture.
Over the next few days, they spend more time together and Richard imagines that they are growing closer, although she is immune to his imagined charms. Helen continually calls her husband, asking him to send the paddle so Ricky can use the kayak, but Richard is repeatedly distracted. His waning resolve to resist temptation fuels his fear that he is succumbing to the "Seven Year Itch". He seeks help from Dr. Brubaker, but to no avail. His imagination then runs even wilder: the young woman tells a plumber (Victor Moore) how Richard is "just like The Creature from the Black Lagoon"; the plumber repeats her story to neighbor McKenzie, whom Helen had asked to drop by to pick up Ricky's paddle. Richard imagines his wife with McKenzie on a hayride which actually takes place but into which he injects his paranoia, guilt and jealousy. After seeing The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the young woman stands over the subway grate to experience the breeze – Monroe in the iconic scene in the pleated white halter dress.
Eventually coming to his senses, and fearing his wife's retribution, which he imagines in a fantasy scene, Richard, paddle in hand, tells the young woman she can stay in his apartment; then he runs off to catch the next train to Maine to be with Helen and Ricky.
Tom Ewell reprised his Broadway role and Marilyn Monroe replaced Vanessa Brown.*Marilyn Monroe as The Girl (credited as such, though Richard Sherman satirically remarks "maybe [she's] Marilyn Monroe")
- Tom Ewell as Richard Sherman (billed as Tommy Ewell)
- Evelyn Keyes as Helen Sherman
- Sonny Tufts as Tom MacKenzie
- Robert Strauss as Kruhulik
- Oscar Homolka as Dr. Brubaker
- Marguerite Chapman as Miss Morris
- Donald MacBride as Mr. Brady
- Victor Moore as the Plumber
- Carolyn Jones as Miss Finch
- Doro Merande as the Waitress in the vegetarian restaurant
The Seven Year Itch was filmed between September 1 and November 4, 1954, and was the only Billy Wilder film released by 20th Century Fox.
The characters of Elaine (Dolores Rosedale), Marie, and the inner voices of Sherman and The Girl were dropped from the play; the characters of the Plumber, Miss Finch (Carolyn Jones), the Waitress (Doro Merande), and Kruhulik the janitor (Robert Strauss) were added. Many lines and scenes from the play were cut or re-written because they were deemed indecent by the Hays office. Axelrod and Wilder complained that the film was being made under straitjacketed conditions. This led to a major plot change: in the play, Sherman and The Girl had sex; in the movie, the romance is all in his head.
The footage of Monroe's dress billowing over a subway grate was shot twice: the first take was shot on location outside the Trans-Lux 52nd Street Theater, then located at 586 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, while the second take was on a sound stage. Both eventually made their way into the finished film, despite the often-held belief that the original on-location footage's sound had been rendered useless by the overexcited crowd present during filming in New York.
Footage of Walter Matthau and Ewell's screen tests for Sherman is featured in the DVD of the film. Nicolas Roeg's film Insignificance features a character based on Monroe and a re-enactment of the subway/dress scene.
The exterior shooting location of Richard's apartment was 164 East 61st Street in Manhattan.
Saul Bass created the opening animated title sequence for the film, his only title sequence for a Wilder movie.
The original 1955 review in Variety was largely positive. Though Hollywood production codes prohibited writer-director Billy Wilder from filming a comedy where adultery takes place, the review expressed disappointment that Sherman remains chaste.
The film earned $6 million in rentals at the North American box office.
The film was listed at number 51 on the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 American comedy films of the past 100 years. Ewell won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. Wilder was nominated for a Directors Guild of America Award.