Mr. Wilder, Mr. Baxter, and Ms. Kubelik.

Magical. That shouldn't be the word that describes a film about a sleazy arrangement that allows executives to use an employee's apartment for lurid affairs. With this in mind, the title The Apartment should bring to mind booze, broads, and unfulfilled promises. Instead, it makes us think of a fragile romance that slowly, achingly enables two people to grow and find happiness. Billy Wilder's movie is beautiful, but it's also cynical, tough, and occasionally cruel. Watching Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon get their hearts broken by the ignorance and the arrogance of others is difficult. Their performances are breathtaking, though, and the script is such a perfect balance between the sweet and the sour -- you'd be a complete idiot to look away for one second.

There are many things that make The Apartment as strong as it is, from the lovely music to the gorgeous cinematography. However, what inspires repeat viewings is the cast and the rich, complicated material they are given to work with. These characters and their situations are both completely relatable and utterly idiosyncratic. C.C. Baxter is
forlorn, lazily ambitious, and a pushover. As our introduction to him demonstrates, he is a guy you could find in any crowd. But then he drains spaghetti with a tennis racket, arranges the olives from his martinis into a circle, and tells us about the time he shot himself in the knee during a failed suicide attempt.

The people who inhabit The Apartment are people we have all encountered. We have seen both the takers and the people who get took; we've probably even experienced it for ourselves. The plight of Fran Kubelik would be pathetic if it weren't so heartbreakingly honest. She has fooled herself into believing that Mr. Sheldrake has the ability to love her unconditionally when the truth is that he only appreciates the pieces of her that he can exploit. Her capacity for love is preyed upon because Sheldrake knows it means she will always be there when he is ready for their next rendezvous. He doesn't want any part of the things that make her complex because that would make her human. When she cries, he chides her for not being the "fun" Fran he used to know. Her unsuccessful suicide is tragic only because it interrupts Christmastime with his family.

Baxter, on the other hand, embraces every single thing about Ms. Kubelik. What she finds ugly, he finds adorable. He recognizes her pain because he has felt it himself. Her affair with Sheldrake should disgust him and it does -- until he takes the time to understand it. He listens to everything she says, despite how uncomfortable or upset it may make him because when it comes to love, he has the same amount of capability as she does. As Fran regains her health, the apartment transforms from a sordid meeting place to a home full of warmth, care, and real romance. The artificial becomes genuine, and lust becomes love.

Although it is an exceptional romantic film, Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond don't engage with the conventions we come to expect. Lemmon and MacLaine never share an embrace. Instead, the looks on their faces have to convey unsaid words and affection that isn't acted upon. Just look at Baxter's dazed, adoring look at Fran when he is punched by
her brother-in-law. He shouldn't be thrilled with the attack, but he is because it shows that on some level, Fran cares for him as evidenced by her scream and rushing to his side. When we initially see them together, Fran is so focused on working the elevator that she doesn't notice Baxter's stare. In the scene, she only really looks at him when she gives him her flower to spiffy up his suit. At the end of the film,
Fran's inability to pay attention to Sheldrake at the Chinese restaurant illustrates that her thoughts are elsewhere, her eyes looking to someone who isn't there.

The ending of The Apartment is another one of Wilder and Diamond's challenges to conventions. There isn't some big declaration; Fran and Baxter don't fall into each other's arms; they still call each other Mr. Baxter and Ms. Kubelik! The scene is a masterclass of understatement and simplicity. They ring in the new year with a card game, an activity they did while Fran was recovering. Puzzled about why she says she is now on her own, Baxter asks "What about Mr. Sheldrake?" Fran replies matter-of-factly "We'll send him a fruitcake every Christmas," recalling what happened with the woman who broke Baxter's heart -- except this time, Baxter won. No longer will he be the one receiving the annual fruitcake, Sheldrake will be. As he watches her shuffle the cards, Baxter tenderly admits "I love you, Ms. Kubelik. Did you hear what I said, Ms. Kubelik? I absolutely adore you." They look at each other. She smiles. "Shut up and deal." Even as he deals the cards and she picks up her hand, they don't stop looking into each other's eyes. Finally, finally they have found what they have been longing for.

__________________

This is my entry to the Favorite Director Blogathon, co-hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and The Midnite Drive-In. Check out the complete roster here.

Comments

  1. As much as I enjoy Billy Wilder's output, this one has been way on the backburner on my viewing list. Perhaps its time to give it a go. Excellent write-up and thanks for joining the blogathon.

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    1. Thanks for having me! It's a great blogathon idea. I think you'll enjoy the film. It's easily one of Wilder's best. Really, I'd say it's one of the best of Lemmon's, MacLaine's, and MacMurray's careers.

      Delete
  2. Ah, The Apartment. The Apartment is sublime and you have more than given the film its due in this tribute to an all-time great filmmaker.

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    1. Thank you! I'm touched that you would think so.

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  3. Nearly 60 years later, and this is still probably the best romantic comedy ever.

    Great post!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! It's definitely one of the greatest.

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  4. Beautiful coverage of what is perhaps my favorite Wilder film, a perfect meld of drama and comedy. Lemmon, MacLaine, MacMurray and cast are superb, as is the script and the memorably romantic musical score. Great job on capturing the magic!
    - Chris

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    1. Thank you! I really appreciate it. When it comes to films like The Apartment, it can be hard to figure out what there is that hasn't already been said, so I'm very glad that you enjoyed it.

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  5. I've only seen this film once and it was so much different than I expected that I still don't know what to think about it. After reading your excellent write-up though makes me want to get it out and give it another watch, keeping your words in mind.

    Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for co-hosting! I'm slowly getting through the entries, but they've been great so far.

      I could see how The Apartment might be different than what you thought. It blends comedy, drama, and romance so skillfully, though. Hope you enjoy your second viewing!

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  6. Great text! The premise of The Apartment is sour, but the result is magical - thanks to Wilder, Lemmon and MacLaine. And I also love the non-conventional ending: Ms Kubelik is still mending her heart, and doesn't fall in Mr Baxter's arms, but we can sense their love being born.
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. What a lovely way to describe the ending! Thanks for reading, Le!

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  7. Great post! I invite you to submit it to this week's The Classic Movie Marathon Link Party. It ends tonight at midnight so if you miss this one, there is a new one each Monday night at 8 pm ET http://classicmovietreasures.com/classic-movie-marathon-link-party-10/

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