I’d like to think I’m a considerate flatmate. Every now and again I’ll leave a bit of washing up longer than I should do, but I’m generally tidy, and bring treats and always remember to buy loo rolls and toothpaste if we’re running low. And our flat, it’s hardly a palace. The front door is draughty as all hell, the kitchen is falling apart and there’s mould. The bad kind of mould that you don’t find on expensive cheese.
But, you know, it’s home. If I was being forced out of it for extended periods of time at short notice, I’d probably go absolutely spidershit mental. Unfortunately, that is precisely what happens to C.C ‘Buddy’ Baxter in this week’s Black & White Wednesday picture.
Baxter (played with knowing aplomb by Jack Lemmon, who apparently was no stranger to life as a doormat) is the protagonist of excellent Billy Wilder comedy The Apartment (1960). A lowly office drone working at an enormous insurance firm, Baxter has found a swift shortcut up the precarious corporate ladder – allowing his philandering superiors to utilise his Upper West Side apartment as a shag pad for their various illicit liaisons, often with female colleagues from their office. Sure enough, despite many inconveniences and much schedule-shuffling and making himself ill in the process, Baxter manages to please all parties (aside from himself, of course) and secure a promotion to the personnel department.
In amongst these myriad affairs, Baxter, a rather sweet and lonely bachelor, has had his eye on a smart, wise-cracking and attractive elevator attendant (Shirley MacLaine). MacLaine’s character, Fran Kubelik, is soon to become tragically embroiled in Baxter’s scheme, for the man in charge of the personnel department, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) is Baxter’s new boss, after negotiation the new and sole user of his apartment and Fran’s ex squeeze. After the truth eventually emerges, and a number of tragic, embarrassing or downright humiliating events occur, Baxter is given a choice between the woman he loves and corporate success. Showing that every dog has his day, Baxter refuses Sheldrake’s pretty disgusting offer and quits his job.
The beauty of The Apartment is that it fools you completely into believing that it’s a screwball comedy. Of course, there are many funny moments (mostly featuring Lemmon, who is outstanding) but these are juxtaposed with some extremely moving, and often quite shocking moments of very human drama. I somehow find myself forgetting this whenever I sit down to watch the movie, and tear up nearly every time. Performances are stunning all round, with the lascivious bosses played with scenery-chewing relish by David White, Ray Walston, David Lewis, and Willard Waterman, and Fred MacMurray solid as the calculating and shrewd Jeff Sheldrake. Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon deservedly received Academy award nominations for their roles as two young people as bamboozled by life and love as the best of us.
This movie was a daring feature at the time, with the main conceit of the film being based upon infidelity and adultery, but despite the controversy was incredibly successful both critically and commercially, going on to become winner of five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. Interestingly, The Apartment was also made shortly before the standard use of black-and-white film was phased out in Hollywood – only two black-and-white movies have won the Best Picture Oscar since; Schindler’s List and The Artist.
Billy Wilder’s later comedies were nearly all superb, but few matched the satirical wit and boisterous charm of The Apartment. Have your beloved around to see it, be they your spouse or no. It’ll provide you with a novel approach to draining pasta, if nothing else.