Inevitably, I return to Billy Wilder's "The Apartment.""What's so interesting about looking at movies again - you're different and they're different."-Molly Haskell
I celebrated it as "the film that defines me" when I introduced this site back in 2006 and have referenced it multiple times with each additional viewing - and with the recognition that I saw a slightly different movie each time. When it was new, in 1960, the film was praised for how masterfully Wilder combined equal measures of the bitter with the sweet, but as it seemingly morphed decade after decade, that balance played out.
With each passing year, its affable hero and lovelorn heroine have become a little less innocent - and much more complicit in their respective situations, losing the sympathetic appeal that made them so likeable in 1960. As a result, the movie itself has taken on a dramatic muscularity.
Suddenly, years on, it had a notable toughness.
And as it approaches its 60th anniversary, "The Apartment" has remained remarkably modern. All that's missing really are cell phones and laptops - and self-service elevators, of course. It could pass for a recent movie. Yes, modern - and pertinent. During my most recent engagement with "The Apartment," two moments struck me with their relevance to today.
But, first, a little set-up: C.C. (Bud) Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is an ambitious puppy who works in the company's Premium Accounting Division (desk #861) of Consolidated Life of New York and who (1) "lends" his apartment to several of his superiors for their extramarital affairs and (2) has this crush on Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), an elevator operator in the Consolidated building who is otherwise committed to an ill-fated affair with J.D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), the (married) head of Consolidated personnel. Baxter is so delusional that he actually thinks he is in a relationship with Fran because they speak whenever he's in her elevator.
These subservient chimps are interrupted when the dominant ape, Sheldrake, appears. Clearing them out, he has the following, rather familiar conversation with a very unctuous, eager-to-please Baxter:
Baxter: Fine! And I want you to know that I'll work very hard to justify your confidence in me!
Sheldrake: Sure you will. (a short pause) Say, Baxter, about that apartment - now that you got a raise, don't you think we can afford a second key?
Baxter: Well, I guess so.
Sheldrake: You know my secretary - Miss Olsen...
Baxter: Oh, yes! Very attractive! Is she the lucky one?
Sheldrake: No, you don't understand. She's a busybody, always poking her nose into things - and with that key passing back and forth, why take chances?
Baxter: Yes, sir! You can't be too careful! (a pause) I have something here - I think it belong to you.
Sheldrake: To me?
Bud hands Sheldrake a make-up compact.
Baxter: I mean - the young lady - whoever she may be. It was on the couch when I got home last night. The mirror is broken. It was broken when I found it.
Sheldrake: So it was. She threw it at me.
Sheldrake: You know how it is - sooner or later, they all give you a bad time.
Baxter: (acting like a big man himself) I know how it is!
Sheldrake: You see a girl a couple of times a week - just for laughs - and right away she thinks you're going to divorce your wife. I ask you, is that fair?
Baxter: No, sir! That's very unfair ... especially to your wife!
Sheldrake: Put me down for Thursday again.
Baxter: Roger! And I'll get that other key!
Baxter: The mirror - it's broken.
Fran: I know. I like it this way. Makes me look the way I feel.
I believe the current word of choice for his behavior is "inappropriate."
It would amazing if Billy Wilder and his co-writer A.I.L. Diamond were still with us to discuss the dynamics of their ever-relevant script and how their film has turned out to be so prescient - so much more than "bittersweet."
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~Fred MacMurray and Jack Lemmon in a scene from "The Apartment"
~A mirror reflection of Lemmon; Shirley MacLaine, and Hope Holliday with Lemmon
~photography: United Artists 1960©