The Apartment is a film that was really ahead of its time. The subject matter is pretty racy when you think about what was deemed acceptable in 1960. C C Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a mid-level employee at a large insurance company who earns the affection of the higher ups by letting them use his apartment for their romantic rendezvous with their mistresses. Little does he know that his boss Mr. Sheldrake is having an affair with Baxter’s office crush Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). There is something profoundly disturbing about a man knowing his boss is sleeping with the girl of his dreams in his own bed, but The Apartment is still a delightfully charming film.
Jack Lemmon is one of my favorite actors of all-time and this is definitely among his top five roles. He’s a guy who always tries to do the right thing and gets his first break by helping men cheat on their wives. However, he eventually sees how much pain the men he helps are causing when Miss Kubelik tries to take her own life in his apartment and he can no longer be a part of it, even if it means losing his job. Baxter is very cute, with his funny way of talking and his peculiar cooking habits, and Lemmon is able to keep him from becoming a Nice GuyTM by not allowing himself to become jaded. He knows being a mensch is what’s important.
The sequence where Baxter finds Miss Kubelik in the midst of a pill overdose and must enlist the help from his neighbor the doctor to save her is extremely powerful. The doctor is no stranger to the carrying on that goes on in the apartment, but incorrectly assumes Baxter is some good time Charlie, who has a different girl every night of the week. Watching Baxter have to play the part of the heartless bastard to hide Miss Kubelik’s secret is one of my favorite scenes in any film. The Oscar winning screenplay has so many magical unspoken moments. I remember in one of my screenwriting classes, my professor waxed poetic about the mirror scene. Early in the film, Baxter returns a compact with a broken mirror to Mr. Sheldrake, then later he sees Miss Kubelik with the same broken mirror, which tells him without words that she is his boss’ mistress. Billy Wilder said that if you let the audience connect the dots themselves, they’ll love you for it.
MacLaine’s Fran Kubelik may be one of the first manic pixy dream girls in film history. She even has a sassy pixie cut! She’s quirky and tragic and can have any man she wants, at least for a night. Baxter loves her quirkiness and is a bit taken aback by her drama but knows he could be the man she needs. My only real complaint about the film is that I don’t believe Baxter and Miss Kubelik will last in the end. I think they’ll give it an honest try, but she’ll eventually leave him for someone more exciting.
Baxter: That’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.