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 spending the summer in Maine. When he returns home with the kayak paddle Ricky accidentally left behind, he meets a woman (Marilyn Monroe), who is 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 reading the manuscript of a book in which psychiatrist Dr. Brubaker (Oskar Homolka) claims that almost all men are driven to have extra-marital affairs in the seventh year of marriage. Sherman 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 Helen's bridesmaid, but she laughs it off. A tomato plant then crashes into his lounge chair; the woman upstairs apologizes for accidentally knocking it off the balcony, 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.
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 visiting 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, blowing her skirt in the wind.
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.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 MacKenzie
Robert Strauss as Kruhulik
Oscar Homolka as Dr. Brubaker
Marguerite Chapman as Miss Morris
Victor Moore as Plumber
Roxanne as Elaine
Donald MacBride as Mr. Brady
Carolyn Jones as Miss Finch
Kathleen Freeman as Woman at Vegetarian Restaurant (uncredited)
Doro Merande as Waitress at Vegetarian Restaurant (uncredited)
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. (At least for the most part. Romance between the two is still suggested. Sherman and the Girl kiss twice, once outside the movie theater, the other time before Sherman goes to take Ricky's paddle to Ricky.)
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.
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 86% based on 29 reviews and an average score of 7.2/10.
In the 1970s Wilder called the movie "a nothing picture because the picture should be done today without censorship... Unless the husband, left alone in New York while the wife and kid are away for the summer, has an affair with that girl there’s nothing. But you couldn’t do that in those days, so I was just straitjacketed. It just didn’t come off one bit, and there’s nothing I can say about it except I wish I hadn’t made it. I wish I had the property now."
The film earned $6 million in rentals at the North American box office.
Awards and honors
In 2000, American Film Institute included the film as #51 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs.In Sabrina, also directed by Wilder and released a year prior this film, the character of Humphrey Bogart tells his brother that he went with Audrey Hepburn's titular character to see The Seven Year Itch, which was on Broadway at that time.
The fourteenth episode of the sixteenth season of The Simpsons was named: "The Seven-Beer Snitch", an obvious play on the title.
The film was remade twice in Bollywood: Bisi Bisi (2004), and Prem Kaa Game (2010).
Marilyn Monroe's dress-blowing-up scene has become a pop-culture phenomenon, being referenced in various media:In the film Pulp Fiction, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) visits a 1950s-themed restaurant, where a waiter dressed as Monroe in her white dress can be seen. During one scene, the waiter can be seen having her dress blown up for the amusement of the customers.
In the 2000 animated film The Tigger Movie, during the song "Round My Family Tree," a female Tigger has her dress blown by the wind that takes her up in the air.
In The House Bunny, the character Shelley Darlingson (played by Anna Faris) attempts to recreate the dress-blowing-up scene.
In episode 15 of season 4 of Mad TV, the character Antonia (played by Nicole Sullivan) plugs her perfume in a commercial, wearing a similar white dress as The Girl, attempting to mimic the iconic dress-blowing-up scene.
In the "Rosebud" episode of the fifth season of The Simpsons, a photo is of Mr. Burns mimicking the scene, wearing a similar dress.
In the "Gone Maggie Gone" episode of the twentieth season of The Simpsons, a nun under the name Sister Marilyn is shown as a bad example for Lisa Simpson, as she can be seen holding down her robe while wind blows from a vent underneath her.
In the "Mom's the Word" episode of the twelfth season of Family Guy, a elderly woman named Evelyn tries to seduce Peter Griffin by letting her skirt be blown up by the street grate, as in the scene.
In the animated film Shrek 2, the Fairy Godmother appears in a time of need to Princess Fiona. The Godmother makes her wear a golden dress which blows upward, forcing Fiona to hold it down.
The music video for Marina and the Diamonds' song "Hollywood" features many American cultural icons, including a Marilyn Monroe look-alike with a white dress, similar to the one she wears during this scene.
In the comic book issue Deadpool Vol 3 #4, Deadpool dresses up as Marilyn Monroe in the iconic white dress, to fight a Zombie John F. Kennedy.
In the animated film The Smurfs, while showing off her new dress, Smurfette's dress blows upwords like Monroe's.
In the animated Disney film Hercules, during the song "Zero To Hero", Hercules flies across the night sky, where a constellation resembling Monroe is seen, which causes her dress to fly up.