Billy Wilder FrançOis Truffaut - Essay

FrançOis Truffaut

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT

The metaphor is exaggerated. It doesn't take seven minutes to realize that The Seven Year Itch is beyond smut and licentiousness and that it takes us past the limits of evil to a kind of worn-down regret, good humor, and kindness. (p. 159)

The most important character in the play, the focus of all attention, is the man who is deliberately ordinary, somewhat less average both physically and intellectually, so as to ensure the identification of the male audience and the greater enjoyment—sadistic, "superior," maybe envious—of the women. In the film, the center of interest shifts to the heroine, for the excellent reason that when she is on screen there is nowhere to look but at her body, from head to toe, with a thousand stops along the way. Her body draws us up from our seats to the screen as a magnet attracts a scrap of metal.

On screen, there is no chance to reflect. Hips, nape, knees, ears, elbows, lips, palms of the hand, profiles win out over tracking shots, framing, sustained panoramas, dissolves. All this, it must be admitted, doesn't happen without a deliberate, measured, finally very effective vulgarity. Billy Wilder, the libidinous old fox, moves along with such incessant suggestiveness that, ten minutes into the film, we aren't sure what are the original or literal meanings of faucet, Frigidaire, under, above, soap, perfume, panties, breeze, and Rachmaninoff.

If we admire, rather than grow annoyed, it is because the film's verve and inventiveness, its cavalier vigor and naughtiness demand complicity. (pp. 159-60)

François Truffaut, "Billy Wilder: 'The Seven Year Itch'" (1956), in his The Films in My Life, translated by Leonard Mayhew (copyright © 1975 by, Flammarion; translation copyright © 1978 by, Simon and Schuster; reprinted by permission of Simon and Schuster, a Division of Gulf & Western Corporation; originally published as Les films de ma vie, Flammarion, 1975), Simon and Schuster, 1978, pp. 159-61.