"The Seven Year Itch" (1955) on Blu-ray -- A Tale of Old Hollywood!

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"The Seven Year Itch" (1955), Blu-ray.  A Fox release from 2012.

Video on this one is 1080p/24, in 2.55:1 Aspect Ratio -- so there will be Letter Box Bars above and below.  Audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1 48 kHz.

Extras include a good Commentary track by Billy Wilder biographer, Kevin Lally (an easy listen.)

SD Extras include a 17 minute Fox Movie Channel piece; one of their "Fox Legacy with Tom Rothman" series (which all strike me as kinda weird, verging on creepy). Then there's a 4 minute piece showing two "deleted" scenes which had to be changed due to censorship.  Then there's a 24 minute archival documentary on the film, covering the censorship controversies.  Then there's 5 minutes of publicity pieces:   A brief, Fox Movietone clip and two Theatrical Trailers.

HD Extras include two, auto-advance slide shows: One of advertising material, and the other of behind the scenes shots.  Then there's a 25 minute piece on Wilder's filmmaking with Marilyn Monroe, featuring Hugh Hefner as an authority on sex appeal.

There's also a BD-Java feature, a "Marilyn Monroe Interactive Timeline", which lets you select from her filmography and see either a text slide or a video clip on each film.

The disc also offer two alternate viewing modes in addition to normal feature playback and the Commentary track.  First is an "Isolated Music Score" audio track.  The second is a Picture-in-Picture viewing mode focussed on the Hays Production Code for films.  This one pops up text extracts from the Code, as well as an "Innuendo Meter" which shows up at key moments and rates scenes on a scale of 1-10 according to how much they were pushing back against the Code.  The Picture-in-Picture elements that pop up -- using "Secondary Audio" -- are also focussed on the history of the Code and its impact on filmmaking.  Hefner reappears in these as well.


The Girl (Marilyn Monroe): "When it gets hot like this, you know what I do? I keep my undies in the icebox!"


George Axelrod's 1952 play was a major, Broadway success, and pretty much all of Hollywood was eager to cash in on it.  So much interest was expressed, the Hays Office took the unusual step of announcing, even BEFORE anyone secured the rights, that THIS material could NEVER ever be made into a film!

The problem was, the play is about a middle-aged everyman who has an adulterous fling while his wife and child are away on summer vacation, and then feels very very guilty about it in very very humorous ways.  But one of the fundamental provisions of the Production Code was that adultery could NEVER be treated as a subject for comedy or laughs!

Screenwriter/Director Billy Wilder had no love for the Production Code, and he and Marilyn Monroe's manager joined to secure the film rights -- much to Axelrod's delight, since Wilder was his idol.  Wilder had had a falling out with Paramount, so he took the project to Fox -- the only film he ever made for Fox -- largely because Daryl Zanuck at Fox had Marilyn Monroe under contract.

Although Wilder would have great success subverting the Production Code in LATER films, it was TOO soon -- and the subject matter TOO sensitive -- for him to pull it off this time!  George Breen at the Hays Office assigned an observer permanently to the shoot.  In addition the Catholic Legion of Decency assigned a Monsignor.  Both made it clear to Zanuck they were dead serious.  If the film went too far they would see it killed off.

Tom Ewell reprised his Tony Award winning role from the stage play as Richard Sherman; the paperback book publisher with the overactive imagination (and libido).  Marilyn Monroe played The Girl (never named).

Wilder did manage to insert a fair amount of innuendo by portraying it as scenes taking place only in Ewell's head.  (His imagination, Wilder and Fox made sure to point out, works in Cinemascope.  And Stereo sound.  So you darn well better see it in a real, Movie Theater!)

But the whole POINT of the play is that Ewell's character really does sleep with The Girl.  That's what drives all his guilt.  And the Hays Office was adamantly against that.

Wilder tried all sorts of ways to sneak in even the slightest hint that infidelity, although never shown, had actually happened.  The Hays Office shot down every single one.

That leaves the actions of Ewell's character -- humorous as they are -- flat out odd.  Wilder stated later in life he wished he'd never made the film under these conditions.  The RIGHT time to make the film was a decade or so later, when it could be done properly -- i.e., without the censorship.

Nevertheless, the film works!  It is both funny AND titillating!  Some of that is the amazing screenwriting by Axelrod and Wilder.  But a LOT of it is simply Marilyn Monroe -- 28 years old (and playing 22 in the film), and a totally captivating screen presence!

Indeed Monroe's performance turns the story on its ear.  This is SUPPOSED TO BE a story about Ewell's character.  The Girl is just supposed to be a supporting role that sets up his situation.  But there's no doubt that THIS film is about The Girl:   Monroe is the star!

PQ and AQ on this Fox Blu-ray are very good.  Notwithstanding the film being shot on DeLuxe film stock, the color palette is a treat -- particularly for flesh tones.  The restoration has eliminated almost all traces of film damage -- just a little bit of friction thinning still shows as mild brightness variations, here and there.

The original release used 4 Track Stereo (4 front speakers spread behind the CinemaScope projection screen), and the 5.1 lossless track on this disc is, thus, appropriately "front staged" -- not aggressive in its use of the Surrounds -- with very good fidelity and only a few hints of limited dynamic range arising from the original recording technology.

A NOTE ON PLAYBACK:  As mentioned in the sidebar above, the Picture-in-Picture pop ups in the "Sexual Innuendo Meter" viewing mode are authored using "Secondary Audio".  Secondary Audio is a feature of Blu-ray discs which allows the Studio to author an additional, Stereo sound track which plays in parallel with the Feature audio.  The disc can also control the relative volume mix of that stereo audio and the regular audio -- i.e., bringing up the Secondary Audio when it is supposed to be heard.  But as I detailed in my post on Digital Audio 101, doing so can reduce the QUALITY of the Feature audio, even during the times when there is no Secondary Audio playing!  So Blu-ray players invariably include a setting to enable or disable this Secondary Audio Mixing:  Perhaps calling it "Secondary Audio", or perhaps "BD Audio Mixing", or perhaps some other name the Marketing guys dreamed up.  And the usual recommendation is to LEAVE THAT TURNED OFF unless you actually want to play an on-disc feature which requires it.  Well THIS "Sexual Innuendo Meter" viewing mode requires it.  If you forget to enable Secondary Audio in your player you will get no audio from the Picture-in-Picture segments when they appear on screen.  You will hear only the Feature audio track.  In addition, to get the best quality from the Feature audio while this Secondary Audio mixing is enabled (e.g., during the periods BETWEEN those Picture-in-Picture pop ups), you should set your disc player to output HDMI LPCM audio instead of HDMI Bitstream audio.

TECHNICAL NOTE:  You may be wondering why the REGULAR Commentary track (from Kevin Lally) doesn't require Secondary Audio to be enabled.  The answer is, the Commentary track was authored as a completely separate track -- with the Feature audio mixed into it as part of that authoring -- instead of the mixing happening, on the fly, during playback.

It's truly amazing this film is as good as it is, given the strict censorship constraints.  Of course the censors really were fighting a losing battle with Monroe starring!  That said, it's truly a shame Axelrod's original play couldn't be filmed intact.