Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Seven Year Itch

The Seven Year ItchAs part of my ongoing attempts to catch up on classic cinema history, I saw The Seven Year Itch on Friday night. The movie has just been released on DVD as part of the excellent Fox Cinema Reserve series and will be in stores this coming Monday.

This is a fun movie - not a classic by any means, for reasons I'll come on to - but given that it was made in 1954, it remains surprisingly watchable. In fact I was surprised at how well it's stood the test of time, with some wonderfully racy lines despite the whole central theme of adultery having had to be ditched after pressure from the Hays censorship office. Lord knows what the more puritanical members of 1955's movie-going audiences thought of some of the raunchy lines we get here. I particularly enjoyed the knowing-but-unknowing references to two male tenants sharing an appartment with a throwaway line about them being 'interior designers'. Some things never change, it seems!


Marilyn Monroe is excellent and suddenly I can see what the fuss is all about. She's sex with a capital 'S' in this movie, playing the ditzy blonde that she would later grow to detest, to maximum effect. The film features arguably her most iconic moment - that of her struggling to hold down a skirt which is being blown above her waist by a pavement vent expelling air from a subway system.


The script shows its Broadway play origins - being both polished and witty (although most of those involved reveal that the best lines had to be cut because of the overly oppressive Hays Office of censorship). There were several places where I literally laughed out loud - no mean achievement for a comedy movie written and produced in the 1950's!


However, ultimately one is left with the impression that a much better film could probably have been made. Part of the problem is that this is a film about adultery, but because of the censor's involvement, the act of adultery was never allowed to occur or be hinted at. Another part of the problem is the film's origin in the theatre - it shows, and too often what we're seeing comes across as a filmed theatre play rather than a movie in its own right. Too many of the shots are static, with nearly all of the action taking place on one single set. The very long 'spoken out loud' soliloquays seem too artificial by modern day standards and although the male lead Tom Ewell delivers a great THEATRICAL performance, one can't help thinking a better film would have resulted if the originally planned lead and the director's personal choice, Walter Mattheau, had been allowed by the studio heads to play the part.


This is the eighth title in the 'premium' Cinema Reserve series, and arguably the most lavish. An excellent two hour documentary The Final Days gives background to Marily Monroe's last film Something's Got To Give from 1962 (including a half hour version of this uncompleted last film from recently discovered archive footage), the problems she caused everyone in her last weeks and the events that lead up to her premature death. In addition there's an excellent episode of the American Backstory series, focussed on The Seven Year Itch itself, as well as a 90 minute black and white documentary on Monroe made not long after her death.


The film itself is in pristine condition thanks to a superb digital transfer, and features an informative commentary from director Billy Wilder and biographer Kevin Lally.


Rather worryingly the usual Cinema Reserve introductory titles are missing from this release and there appears to be no news (either in the booklet included or in the trailers section) of forthcoming releases, as has been the case with previous releases in this series. I sincerely hope this isn't the last release in the series, because the eight releases to date have been real treasures, with this being one of the highlights of a series that has set very high standards indeed. At a typical online price of around £14 this two disk release in the usual lavish metal tin with booklet comes highly recommended.


2 comments:

Brian Sibley said...

I agree with much of what you say bout '7YI' and, in particular, Monroe's performance, but am amused by your two-fold referenece to it's being quite good "given that it was made in 1954"!

I do realise that this reaction is an 'old man thing', but I can truthfully think of movies from the 40s and the 30s that I still find ectrifying today.

However sophisticated movie-MAKING techniques may become, surely the essence of a good film (b&w, colour, small-screen, big-screen) is how effectively the picture combines the ingredients: story, character and atmosphere.

It really shouldn't surprise us that an old film can move us to laughter or tears any more than say the music of Beethoven or the novels of Dickens.

Great art - TRUE art - is, surely, timeless...

Ian said...

Unlike you, I find too many of the old films 'hard work'. Most just 'feel' dated, even those I've really enjoyed. This, for some reason, didn't, with its dialogue and jokes, particularly the risque ones, feeling very much of today.

But yes, I'm probably being rather naive thinking that just because something is new or of my generation it must be better than something that was made before I was born.