C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) has found the quickest way to rise from a nobody-clerk to an executive in hisNew Yorkinsurance company. He lets the other executives use his apartment as a safe place to take their mistresses. Though Baxter is often waiting outside in the cold when a date is running late, they drink all his liquor and eat all his cheese crackers, he keeps putting up with the pile of annoyances in hopes of the men acting on their promises to make him an executive.
Because of all the comings, going, loud music and empty bottles of liquor in his trash, Baxter’s neighbors assume he’s a real swinging bachelor. His neighbor, Dr. Dreyfus (Jack Kruschen) says he can hear everything from next door and advises the young man to either slow down or donate his body to science. With Baxter not always able to explain all the noise, the land lord starts becoming suspicious.
At work, Baxter has eyes for the pretty elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). They flirt in the elevator on his way to see Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) about a promotion. Part of this promotion includes letting Sheldrake use the apartment as well, but at least he has theater tickets to exchange so Baxter has somewhere to go, so Baxter asks Fran to go with him. What Baxter doesn’t know is that Fran is Sheldrake’s mistress in a long line of mistresses. Later, after drama ensues and Fran finds out the ugly truth about her relationship with Sheldrake, she tries something drastic in Baxter’s apartment. Baxter becomes the only person who cares enough about Fran to help her.
Baxter is the sort of nice guy we can’t help but love, even though it’s obvious he’s a huge pushover. He is constantly being taken advantage of by the executives just for a fast-track promotion. Though we realize this isn’t the most honest path to rise in the company, we don’t chastise Baxter for loaning out his apartment. Of all the scandalous ways to get ahead at this insurance firm, Baxter is keeping pretty tame and classy. And for those of us who tsk-tsk-ed him at any point are turned completely in his favor when he unselfishly helps Fran.
Out of context, this plot may sound a little heavy. In the film, it’s anything but. From the start, a wonderfully light tone is set and stays consistent throughout the film. We’ve got Jack Lemmon with all his quirky, charming comedic genius being pulled different ways. His scene in Sheldrakes office with the nasal spray had me in stitches. The jokes are quick, charismatic and naturally off the cuff. And when the plot becomes heavier, that light feeling is not lost. It becomes a wonderful charm to help ease the tension, get Fran back on her feet and moves Baxter to new levels of confidence.
You rarely find a film with this high level of comedy and an engaging plot with so much at stake. Between the wonderful acting, which can range from slapstick comedy to life and death dramatics, and the zany yet calculable plot, The Apartment does not let up or let you down. It was a two hour film, yet I sat back, laughed and became so engrossed it felt like it was over too quick. I highly recommend The Apartment to all people who just want to enjoy a classic film. Other than the horrible injustice done to Psycho (I cannot forgive the Academy on that one), Billy Wilder’s The Apartment is the best picture of 1960.
“When you’re in love with a married man, you shouldn’t wear mascara.”