Saturday, December 17, 2005

This Pressure Got to Stop

I recall seeing pieces of The Seven Year Itch here and there over the years, and the weirdest thing about it for me was the image of Tom Ewell, a really old guy, hound-dogging Marilyn Monroe, his eyes bulging, his voice wheezy, his whole posture full of creaks and groans. I didn't get it. I know Hollywood movies demand with a Prom Queen's insistence that you enter the moment, paste a grin on your mug, and dance, dammit, everyone's looking. But I wasn't able to get myself onto the floor; this was one date I couldn't buy.

After a while I just gave up trying to watch it. This was difficult, because, like so many others, I find it a chore to keep my eyes off Marilyn. She will always be the duskiest, dewiest grape on the vine, a not-so-secret indulgence, one for the road. Pick your metaphor, I don't care; despite my happy life and settled path, I allow Marilyn to be a movie I still like to watch. And I didn't want crummy old Tom Ewell horning in, his pointy little nose twitching like a dumb bunny darting across the road.

Naturally, it is mea culpa once more. I was simply too young to get it, even when I was forty--Ewell's character, Richard Sherman, is supposed to be thirty-nine when Marilyn steps into his apartment and his shivery dreamlife. But come on, he looks fifty at least; like Walter Brennan or Michael Jeter, God rest him, Ewell has always been old. So I half-unconsciously waited until I was approaching geezerdom myself before I'd watch Itch.

It was worth the wait. At forty-nine the whole setup makes dismayingly obvious sense, from Sherman's self-delusion to the unnamed Girl's oblivious attitude toward her own flabbergasting power. I understood why he would stare, knowing better, and why she would let him, not knowing any better. You reach a kind of invisibility at a certain age. No one wants to know you're still under lots of pressure; they just flounce on by and leave the terminal swooning to you.

I wondered briefly if The Girl knew she was va-va-va-vooming Sherman into gaga-land. (Given the pastel world of martinis and hi-fis of this 1955 movie, I think I'm using the right kind of language here.) Marilyn, though, plays her, not as clueless, but guileless. She's happy to see you, and hot--literally; the movie's set during a sticky-steamy NYC summer. She loves a tall cold drink and air conditioning, but the rest of it--Sherman's hectic parody of suave, the double-backflip-entendres of every other line, even her own precision engineering--is incidental to her desire for a nice talk and a cigarette.

So while Tom Ewell, at last in my eyes behaving perfectly normally, wrestles with the billowing sails of the Good Ship Marilyn, avoiding the rocks at the last moment--actually never in danger, as far as Marilyn is concerned; she's too busy smiling wide-eyed at every bit of fun available--I came to terms with my own jittery fits and starts, happy (as much as possible) that The Seven Year Itch, while not Billy Wilder's crowning moment, did serve up a passable slice of life, as loaded with as much whipped cream and guilt as my plate could bear.

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