(director/writer: Billy Wilder; screenwriter: George Axelrod/ based on the play by George Axelrod; cinematographer: Milton Krasner; editor: Hugh S. Fowler; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Marilyn Monroe (The Girl), Tom Ewell (Richard Sherman), Evelyn Keyes (Helen Sherman), Sonny Tufts (Tom McKenzie), Robert Strauss (Kruhulik, janitor), Oskar Homolka (Dr. Brubaker), Marguerite Chapman (Miss Morris), Victor Moore (Plumber), Butch Bernard (Ricky Sherman), Donald MacBride (Mr. Brady, Richard Sherman’s boss); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Charles K. Feldman/Billy Wilder; Criterion; 1955)

“Ruined by too much interference from insiders and outsiders.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of Billy Wilder’s (“Sabrina”/”Some Like It Hot”/”Love in the Afternoon”) overrated minor films is ruined by too much interference from insiders and outsiders. It’s a middle-aged male fantasy film, where everything is in the mind and in Marilyn Monroe flaunting her stuff in a much too obvious bimbo fashion. It’s based on the popular Broadway play by George Axelrod and never settles into being a fulfilling movie as much as it’s a flat theatrical one filled with Walter Mitty-like dream sequences that are acted out. It’s best remembered for Marilyn’s skirt lifted up by the breeze from the New York subway grating and exposing her undergarment. That’s about as risqué as it gets for the 1950s, when it seemed fresh. Viewed today, it all seems tiresome, dated, sexist, too coy and trite. Though Marilyn has a gift for comedy and her timing is flawless, the material is too stale even though the film is watchable because of her magical persona on-and-off the screen.

The 38-year-old Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) is a Manhattan resident who works for a publishing house pushing cheap drugstore novels by touching up the covers to make them sexier. He’s married for seven years to Helen (Evelyn Keyes) and has a young son who idolizes Captain Video. For the summer wifey and son Ricky retreat to Maine to get away from the summer heat. Richard has the so-called seven year itch and fantasizes about meeting another woman now that he’s a summer bachelor. He has to go no further than his apartment building, where luscious 22-year-old model Marilyn Monroe rents the apartment above him for the summer. On his first night alone, he invites her over for a drink and eyeballs her as they innocently chat and drink champagne. The film follows that line of Richard being tempted to be a bad boy but never acting out his rich erotic fantasy life. By the end of the summer, all’s well as wifey and kiddie return from their summer paradise and the publisher goes back to being his timid married self.

You can’t blame Wilder for this tame scenario, reducing all the sexual things kicked around to just a temptation. Wilder later recalled “On Broadway, Ewell has an affair with the girl upstairs, but in the picture, he only gets to imagine how it would be to go to bed with Marilyn Monroe.” Censor interference put a damper on the film it couldn’t recover from.

Ewell originated his role on Broadway, but on the screen he’s not cinema friendly. His stagy performance was never exciting, and no else in the supporting cast had much to do but be props to this one-idea joke carried throughout the film. Wilder wanted the untested Walter Matthau to have Ewell’s part, but 20th Century Fox nixed that idea for the veteran actor. I think Matthau might have saved it or at least made it livelier.