#21 in my Ranking of Billy Wilder movies.
This is a fun and intelligently assembled bit of fluff from Billy Wilder. It’s solid entertainment filmed brightly and colorfully while stretching just beyond the original confines of its theatrical roots. It’s as light and frivolous as its opening set on Manhattan several hundred years in the past when we watch a Manhattan tribe send their wives and children north during the hot July before immediately chasing after an attractive young woman which is immediately mirrored in a time jump to the present day as men send their wives and children on a train north and immediately fall in behind an attractive young woman walking by.
Richard Sherman is part of that group and immediately breaks away. He’s a dutiful husband and father, left with a paddle his son forgot before he got on the train, who is determined to never fall into temptation while his wife is away. He’s going to be at work until 6, eat at the vegetarian place around the corner instead of the bar, drink soda pop instead of beer, and not smoke just as his wife and two doctors have ordered. He works for a pulp book company, currently working on finalizing a sensationalized cover for Little Women and reading a manuscript written by a psychologist about the male psyche (which he sexes up with a sordid cover that incorrectly portrays an event detailed in the book).
His first night at home alone, Sherman meets his new upstairs neighbor, Marilyn Monroe (it might as well be her since she’s never given a name in the film). She’s bubbly, sexy, innocent, and completely free of any guile. She also runs around her apartment without any clothes on, keeping her underwear in the freezer since the apartment has no air conditioning. Sherman immediately invites her down for a drink and starts smoking, and here’s where the most fun from the movie comes in. Sherman, working for a pulp novel company, uses the images, styles of storytelling, and characters to imagine different situations involving himself, Monroe, his wife upstate, and a nefarious game of telephone that leads to his own melodramatic death.
Reality never fits with his imagination. He first imagines Monroe coming down and being enraptured at the sound of Rachmaninoff to the point that she will completely fall into his arms. The reality is that she has no idea who Rachmaninoff is and does not get the goose-pimples Richard had imagined. His attempt to kiss her goes foul and they end up toppling the piano bench over. She’s surprisingly unconcerned at Robert’s efforts at seduction since it happens to her so much, but he’s mortified.
Still, he can’t let the fantasy go, especially when he hears word that his wife went on a hay ride with a manly man he knows up there, Tom MacKenzie. His imagination runs wild again and he sees the two seducing each other on a self-propelled hay cart, solidifying Robert’s wavering urge to seduce Monroe, but he’s also consumed by fantasies of Monroe telling her plumber who tells the neighborhood, who tells his wife and his wife shows up at their apartment with a gun to kill him.
Reality and fantasy ultimately crash when Tom MacKenzie shows up at the apartment with a message from Robert’s wife. The underlying compulsion underneath all of Robert’s fantasies was to be another man. He wanted to be the seducer, the strong man, but he’s an uninspiring middle aged man who tries to be dutiful to his wife. Monroe sees his ultimate goodness and girlishly adores him for it, ultimately reinforcing his worth as a man, even if he’s not as tall or manly as Tom MacKenzie, which actually sends Robert to his wife. He finally gets his kiss from Monroe, but it’s as he’s going out the door to rejoin his wife.
The movie is light and fun. A delightful 100 minutes that breeze by.
Netflix Rating: 4/5
Quality Rating: 3/4