The Apartment (1960)
Reviewed on 2006 November 30
Despite the fact that this movie was made in 1960, it still says so much about office politics and human nature that I’d make my children watch it before joining the workforce. I’d make my daughters watch it twice.
Jack Lemmon plays C.C. Baxter, a schnook with a desk-jockey job and a big heart that’s frequently stifled by his desire to crawl up the corporate ladder. He also has a nice little bachelor apartment that he loans to married executives for weekend trysts with their girlfriends. His neighbor sees the nightly parade of different blondes and assumes Baxter is quite a player, but he isn’t: he’s in love with Fran Kubilek (Shirley MacLaine). Every wolf in the office has a crush on the enigmatic Miss Kubilek, but she doesn’t seem interested in them or Baxter. Despite his unrequited love, Baxter seems to be faring pretty well. Sharing his digs propels Baxter up the fast track and catches the attention of the big boss, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray).
One of the best phrases I ever heard was “the banality of evil” and I think MacMurray must have heard it too. He paints Sheldrake as every smiling hypocrite ever given authority and poured in a suit. Once he hears of Baxter’s creative renting arrangements he informs him that such activities won’t be tolerated in a respectable firm like theirs, and this nonsense had better stop — except, of course, for him. Sheldrake will certainly use the apartment for entertaining, and oh yes, he should have his own key, just to keep their little understanding from his secretary. Certainly Sheldrake will make it worth his while. Baxter feels quite pleased with himself and his career progress as he goes to a fateful Holiday party on the 19th floor…
Thanks to Billy Wilder’s direction and the amazing script he created with I.A.L. Diamond, The Apartment won five Oscars®. It’s easy to see why. The movie works so well because people like this do exist. The brilliant dialogue and rich plot make it a masterpiece. A few things have changed, thankfully. I know sexual harassment is still a problem but women have more recourse than they did in the 1960s. I also can’t imagine many on-site Christmas parties today like the 19th floor bacchanalia Wilder depicted. A crummy band and stale turkey in a bland banquet hall may not be as much fun, but at least you won’t wake up the next day and wonder how stupid you looked doing an interpretive dance on the fax machine.
I give The Apartment four chocolate morsels.