Insurance statistician C.C. "Bud" Baxter (Jack Lemmon) advances his career by making his Manhattan apartment available to executives in his company for their extramarital affairs. His boss, Jeff D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), finds out and promotes Bud in return for the exclusive use of the apartment for his own affair. When Sheldrake's girlfriend turns out to be Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), a pretty elevator operator Bud likes, he is heartbroken, but accepts the arrangement.
"You know, I used to live like Robinson Crusoe, shipwrecked among eight million people. Then one day I saw a footprint in the sand and there you were... It's a wonderful thing, dinner for two."
There it is, my favorite line from my favorite movie. It is a line that I tell my wife all of the time because it sums up how I feel about her. I think it is one of the most romantic lines ever written and Jack Lemmon NAILS it! People who read this website regularly might know me as the guy who likes action films and explosions but the reality is I am a true softy at heart and I believe that this movie is the most romantic film I have ever seen.
Sure the movie is about affairs, suicide attempts and fractured people trying to stay afloat and that is the reason it is so romantic, because the love story can rise above all of this crap and make the audience root for Baxter and Kubelik.
Just last week we talked about how great Jack Lemmon was in the wonderful Some Like it Hot and if he was a 10 out of 10 in that film, here he is a 12 out of 10. In a career of great performances this is his best and the role that he was born to play. On top of that line I mentioned at the beginning there are so many wonderful Lemmon moments in this film that I could write a thousand words just describing them. He does the sad sack put upon guy so well here but is also brilliant when he is happy in his little apartment with Kubelik. There are a few characters in film that I would like to have a beer with more than C.C. Baxter and in The Apartment you have a character that is very evident that has been a inspiration for most of director Cameron Crowe's characters, none more than Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything.
There is tons more I want to go over in this film including the look, the cast, "being a man" and much more but before I totally take over this discussion, I want to hear you rave about this film.
The Apartment is one of the films that's grown on me ever since I first saw it. Its opening with wry young C.C. Baxter talking about his problems in factual, undebatable terms instantly lets you know what his deal is: he believes his situation is unavoidable, and the only way to success. It isn't, of course; hard work may eventually be rewarded. But Baxter wants success now, even if that means being a landlord for his many boss's tacky affairs.
Wilder famously drew inspiration from the David Lean film Brief Encounter, a very British movie about a man and a woman who fall in love but who simply cannot consummate their affair. One of the characters in that film loans his apartment for the two lovers, and Wilder saw in that an opportunity for turning that into a very American movie. Success is about compromising yourself, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small ways, and, in the end, the victory is moving several floors up in an office building.
Whenever Wilder is labeled as 'cynical', it's usually leveled at this or Sunset Boulevard (I'd argue for A Foreign Affair, but I'm getting off topic). The Apartment has its warm spots, and can be wonderfully funny at moments, but that just helps conceal how every character spends most of the film lying to one another for their own gain. Corporate politics become those of deceit and philandering, and personal lives turn towards that as well.
The Apartment also furthers proof of Wilder's deep distrust of insurance companies, which, again, I can't blame him for.
So I know you have plenty more to say, Ryan, so let's hear it. Does Fred MacMurray make you want to leave your wife or not?
I don't know if Wilder really doesn't like insurance people because if you had to use a job that highlights shady/untrusting people you either picked insurance people or advertising, now you would just use bankers. I know people see this movie as being really cynical but I see it as Wilder's most hopeful films. Baxter might have used the apartment to move up in the world but it was by accident that the whole thing started, he never calculated the outcome. He only really uses it to his advantage after his heart is broken and he is in a wounded state. Baxter is a good man that truly learns to "be a mensh" during the film.
I also love how Baxter stands by Kubelick and adores her even with her many faults. She is a basket case, she pities herself way too much, she breaks Baxter in about a million pieces and keeps doing the wrong thing, yet Baxter still looks at her with nothing but love. Is it a surprise when she comes to him in the end even though she was about to get everything she said she wanted?
Enough about all the gushy stuff, lets talk about the look of the film. I for one could not imagine this film in color because the film with its row of cubicles at the office and the little sad apartment is bleak and devoid of any warmth. Adding color to this would give it a splash of life that doesn't exist in the film, the only life there really is belongs to Baxter. The movie won an Oscar for best set/art direction for the film beating out the iconic Bates Motel from Psycho and I think it is deserved.
The look of the film and the cinematography by Joseph LaShelle make the apartment the third main character in the movie. This has been mentioned many times before but the way the bedroom is always a focal point in the film was a genius move because no matter what the two characters might be talking about or doing, the bedroom is always present reminding the true reason Kubelick was in the apartment. While Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity are seen as Wilder's most visual movie, I would put The Apartment very near that top.
So I give it back to you with the question, have you ever seen a more depressing Christmas Eve in any film?
Hey now, there are Christmas movies starring Jenny McCarthy out there. Let's not say anything we can't take back.The Apartment is one of the only movies I've ever argued with someone over on the internet, and that comes from Kubelik's role. It's hard to imagine nowadays, but the only way to climb the social ladder for women in 1960's was basically to marry up. Kubelik's only chance for lifelong security, and for many of these ditzy dames, is to ply the idiot managers from their money and into their homes. Kubelik is unfortunately letting her heart get into it-- she can't separate the ends from the means.
But Kubelik's evolution is just as important as Baxter's. She's vulnerable but determined, and suffers from more disadvantages than the hapless Baxter. Her despair is always more palpable than Baxter's desperation, and it's all backed up by MacLaine's perfect balance between kookiness and sadness.
Mr. Sheldrake is such an amazing scuzzball through all of this, too. He's a serial womanizer who abuses his power regularly, which, considering the time it was made, is fairly believable. The scene where he gives Fran her Christmas gift is monumentally sad, and his complete detachment from everyone's pain is infuriating. Murray plays his ugly indifference as everyone's problem but his, which gives him the right amount of sociopathic tendencies to make him a great businessman, terrible human being.
But I'll go back to your cinematography question. There's a couple of wonderfully visual moments in the movie, like when Baxter is waiting outside his apartment, lined up with the garbage cans, or when he's stuck in Central Park at night. The difference between the intimacy of the apartment and coldness of the office are stark and keep the movie working in both big and small terms. It's a scary, sad film about how people are willing to compromise themselves for success, and the look drives this home handily.
So, Ryan, how about that score?
What is not to love about that score? The piano, the strings playing in the background and the lovely melody it makes is simply intoxicating. It is such a good theme/score that Andrew Lloyd Webber "borrowed" heavily from it for his Phantom of the Opera sequel.
I think you hit the nail on the head with what made Mr. Sheldrake a great villain in the movie, his lack of caring for anyone around him. If you get screwed by someone because of a feud/jealously/anger, it is easier to understand that than the person who just screws you over because it is convenient to them. The lack of any emotion shown with Sheldrake for either of the two leads shows him that he thinks of them almost as things, especially Kubelik. He knows they are people but he doesn't see them on the same level as him so they almost become disposable toys for him to use and forget.
One of the reasons I find the movie very romantic is you get the feeling that this kind of relationship is what Kubelik is accustomed to so when Baxter treats her like a princess you are even happier for her because she is finally being shown the respect she deserves. Baxter might not be sexy in a typical sense and is not powerful but he gives Kubelik the one true thing she needs and that is love.
Danny, I think the big question is, if you were a woman would you have been swept away by Baxter or would the money Sheldrake could have given you been enough?
I think if I could wrangle a level of emotional detachment from the proceedings, Sheldrake for sure. But who the hell wants to be with someone who enjoys working in the insurance industry?
I get your feelings on the romance between the two, but I can't say the sparks ever did a whole lot for me. They're sweet, but that's about the most I got from it. Except maybe that final scene of Kubelik running towards the apartment. That would be my favorite moment in the movie. What do you think?
That is a beautiful moment in the film and it goes back to why I find it romantic but I love the fact two people missing something in their lives finding it in each other. There are few movies that fire on all cylinders like this one and I love it every time I see it. The Apartment is my favorite film and it reminds me why I love films in the first place.
When we started this Billy Wilder piece this was the movie I was looking forward to writing the most and I hope I conveyed why I love this movie so much. The Apartment is also the last classic Wilder film that I have seen, I hope that there might be an unseen gem but I don't think that is very likely.