FRC’s Looking Back Friday – The Apartment (1960)
In the first of our new ‘Looking Back Friday’ season, Sam Fragoso looks at the much loved Billy Wilder Film, The Apartment
All of our lives we are desperately attempting to be a human being: Someone with morals, ideals, and love. It’s an ongoing search – one that has no boundaries or final destination. In Billy Wilder’s superb film – The Apartment – our protagonist C.C. Baxter (played by the great Jack Lemmon) has been present, but not necessarily living. This is his tale of finally becoming a real mensch.
Baxter is just another ordinary guy (which is perhaps the reason why his character is ultimately so effective) he works in a cubicle, a row of desks, laid out like some sort of communistic factory. Everyone’s work day begins at 8:50 A.M. and ends at 5:30 P.M.
“That’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise”
The crux of the plot is Baxter’s apartment. He works late in his cubicle, not because he necessarily wants to, but because he’s a womanizing bachelor … or at least that’s how many perceive him as.
The truth is Baxter allows his superiors at work access to his cozy apartment – a nice little place where the corporate executives can have their affairs with young, attractive secretaries, in peace. In exchange the big boys keep promising Baxter raises and promotions – patting him on the back like a child in first grade who just completed their first multiplication table.
This is all well and good. That is until Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) – the boss of Consolidated Life – asks Baxter if he can utilize his apartment for one night to bring up Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) – a cute elevator operator Baxter has had his eyes on for quite some time.
Being the type of susceptible and giving person he is, Baxter continues to grant his co-workers allowance to his apartment. Whether doing such is pragmatic, is debatable. As a result of allowing one night stands in his house, he’s promoted at his job – but also frowned upon by his neighbors, who are consistently upset by his supposed sexual habits.
The irony within the premise springs plenty of good laughs – most of which result from miscommunication and lack of understanding. Which, incidentally, is how Baxter and Fran become close and form a quirky, though heartwarming relationship.
Sheldrake sweet talks Fran, making these hyperbolic statements about how he’ll leave his wife for her, so on and so forth. It’s dramatic irony at its finest.
We know Sheldrake is in for the short-term sexual pleasure – albeit his grand gestures. We know Baxter is in love with Fran, but can’t muster up the strength to tell her. Fran is in the middle of it all. She’s infatuated with the persona of Sheldrake – the riches, pseudo sentiments, and luxurious lifestyles. Fran keeps on saying, “How can’t I love someone nice like you, Baxter?”
We question this very aspect all throughout The Apartment. In society it’s a question that’s subsequently asked. How come women can’t fall in love with the nice guy, instead of the one who treats them poorly? Sure, the film was made in 1960, but Wilder’s touching story is still contemporary even today.
Categorically the film is a romantic-comedy, with a hint of drama. But Wilder and Diamond’s script is too intelligent for the standard whimsical tropes. Our protagonists have jobs that need tending to – unlike many of the standard rom-com flimsies where the characters seemingly have nothing else in their lives besides each other’s inconsequential issues.
Beyond the occupations these characters contain, it is the mere fact that we care for the people on screen that sets The Apartment apart from your typical romantic film. MacMurray as Mr. Sheldrake and MacLaine as Ms. Kubelik are chillingly great, hitting nuances and molding into their characters seamlessly. Still, it is Jack Lemmon that controls the screen. His sincere, precise, and quietly dark performance as C.C. Baxter – a lonely man who at last may have found true love – makes the film in its subtle, endearing glory.
The Apartment embodies everything I’ve come to love about romanticism in the cinema. Its engaging reality and sense of optimism transports the viewer into another time. The film flowed beautifully – made me concern for the final outcome of these people – and ultimately, awed me to a point of relentless happiness.
The exterior of Billy Wilder’s timeless classic may be a dark and witty comedy (as it certainly is at times), but at The Apartment’s core is an intimate relationship – two people puzzled by their realties, but by the end, sure of their affection for one another.
Sam Fragoso is the creator of his site Duke & The Movies, Chief critic at Anomalous Material, and freelances for numerous online publications. You can follow him on twitter @DukeSensation
Have you seen this film? Are you a fan of Billy Wilder features? Comment below…