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Film / The Apartment

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J.D. Sheldrake: You know, you see a girl a couple of times a week, just for laughs, and right away they think you're gonna divorce your wife. Now, I ask you, is that fair?
C.C. Baxter: No, sir, it's very unfair... especially to your wife.

The Apartment is a 1960 American romantic dramedy film directed, produced, and co-written by Billy Wilder and starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. The supporting cast includes Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, and Edie Adams.

The plot concerns one C.C. "Buddy Boy" Baxter (Lemmon), a lowly office drone at a large New York City insurance firm, who has just found the solution for climbing up the corporate food chain: allowing various company bigwigs to borrow his apartment as a trysting place for their extramarital affairs. His boss, J.D. Sheldrake (MacMurray), discovers this, and promotes Baxter on the condition that he lets him use the apartment for his own affair. Naturally, Baxter accepts the condition, but things soon turn complicated when he discovers that his crush, mousy elevator operator Fran Kubelik (MacLaine), is Sheldrake's other woman.

One of Wilder's most acclaimed pictures, it was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning for Best Picture, Director (Wilder), Original Screenplay (Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond), Art Direction, and Editing. The story was subsequently adapted by Neil Simon into the 1968 stage musical Promises, Promises.

This film provides examples of:

  • Advertising by Association: "There's nothing like that Billy Wilder Some Like It Hot type of laughter," to quote the original trailer. The original poster also referred to the movie as "A Billy 'Some Like It Hot' Wilder Production."
  • Anti-Hero: C.C. Baxter is sympathetic, but he's also an Extreme Doormat who has decided that the possibility of a promotion justifies the negative effects the apartment scheme has on his neighbors as well as his own well-being. Casting the extremely likable Jack Lemmon in the role tones down the less savory side of the character.
  • Better Living Through Evil: What Sheldrake gives Baxter.
  • Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario: When Baxter proves to Fran that he is a "mensch".
  • Bungled Suicide: Baxter tells Miss Kubelik he attempted suicide once, and ended up accidentally shooting himself in the knee.
  • Catch Your Death of Cold: Baxter is forced to sleep in the park for hours until someone is through with the apartment, and he gets a nasty cold and fever.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Dobisch wants to use C.C. Baxter’s apartment for date whom he says looks just like Marilyn Monroe. Billy Wilder's previous film, Some Like It Hot, starred Jack Lemmon with Monroe.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: While the film deftly mixes comedy and drama throughout, the relatively light first half is overtaken by a much darker second half (although the comedic scene of Baxter straining spaghetti through a tennis racket happens in the latter half).
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Baxter mentions taking a sleeping pill early in the film. Later, Fran takes the whole bottle.
    • The key to the executive washroom.
    • Inverted with Baxter's gun. In the film's final scene, Baxter has lost the girl, quit his job, and is dejectedly moving out of apartment when we see him take out his pistol. As Fran approaches the door, we hear a loud pop, but it turns out that he's just opened a bottle of champagne, not shot himself.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: J.D. Sheldrake.
  • Crappy Holidays:
    • Christmas and New Year's are both miserable affairs for Baxter and Miss Kubelik. At least until the very end of the film.
    • A sidewalk Santa Claus calls in at the bar where Baxter is drowning his sorrows, but his cheerful wisecracking is no match for the glum stare Baxter gives him. At the end of the night, we see the same Santa sitting morosely at the bar, all alone.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The MGM logo is in color, but the film itself is entirely in black and white. Until Schindler's List, it was the last black and white film to win Best Picture; the last prior to The Apartment had been the ultra-low-budget Marty five years earlier.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: While the film takes place around Christmas and New Year's, the holidays themselves don't have much to do with the story other than to underscore the emptiness of the characters' lives.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: The pianist at the bar where Fran meets Sheldrake plays the opening theme for her when she enters.
  • Digital Destruction: The Collector's Edition DVD and Blu-Raynote  looked overly dark, and vertically compressed. The 2017 restoration corrected these issues.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Baxter.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Baxter, when he learns Miss Kubelik is Mr. Sheldrake's other woman.
  • Especially Zoidberg: This exchange, also serving as Ironic Echo to the prior conversation:
    Baxter: You're not going to bring anybody to my apartment.
    Sheldrake: I'm not just bringing anybody; I'm bringing Miss Kubelik.
    Baxter: Especially not Miss Kubelik.
  • Executive Excess: All of the company managers receive this treatment, happily exploiting the opportunity to use Bud Baxter's Upper West Side apartment to carry out their extramarital affairs with multiple different women. But in particular the personnel director J.D. Sheldrake stands out. A sleazy serial philander, Sheldrake has cheated on his wife with literally dozens of women, many of whom were his own employees (including his long-suffering secretary Miss Olsen), stringing them along by pretending to be planning to leave his wife for them. He spends the film constantly pursuing his latest victim Fran Kubelik.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Sheldrake is a corrupt, manipulative, self-centered serial adulterer. But he's also played by Fred MacMurray, so he still comes across as charming and fatherly, which makes the character even more disturbing.
  • Grew a Spine: Baxter eventually refuses to loan his apartment to Sheldrake again, and quits instead.
    Sheldrake: What's gotten into you, Baxter?
    Baxter: Just following doctor's orders. I've decided to become a mensch. You know what that means? A human being.
  • I "Uh" You, Too: Baxter confesses his love to Miss Kubelik while they play Gin Rummy. She responds with this classic line:
    "Shut up and deal."
  • Interrupted Suicide: Miss Kubelik tries to kill herself when she realized Mr. Sheldrake didn't really love her back. Baxter and Dr. Dreyfuss prevent her from becoming an example of Driven to Suicide.
  • Karma Houdini: The four executives who were using Bud's apartment. They take advantage of Baxter, cheat on their wives with ridiculous frequency and in the end only Bud gets punched in the face.
  • Last-Name Basis: Bud and Fran always refer to each other as "Miss Kubelik" and "Mr. Baxter", in and out of the workplace; even when he tells her that he loves her, he uses her last name. Lampshaded by Dr. Dreyfuss:
    "Mister, Miss. Such politeness."
  • Love Triangle: Baxter loves Miss Kubelik, Kubelik loves Sheldrake, Sheldrake just wants a bit on the side. In the end Miss Kubelik leaves Sheldrake when she hears that Baxter finally stood up to him, and goes running to Baxter's apartment.
  • Maybe Ever After: Baxter seems to be totally head over heels about Fran; she, on the other part, is severely traumatized by her past love experience and had only realized a few minutes ago that he is a guy who can make her happy. Though she came back to his titular apartment on the New Year Eve for the film's ending, they don't share a kiss or even embrace, and she doesn't reciprocate his love confession. However, her glowing smile and a hint that she's left her abusive romantic interest for good allow enough space for optimism, along with the immortal last line: "Shut up and deal."
  • The Mistress: Miss Kubelik.
  • Moral Myopia: The other executives — who are cheating on their wives and depriving Baxter of his home whenever it suits them in order to do so — get outraged and act as if they're the ones being wronged when Baxter finally pulls the plug for them.
  • New Year Has Come: The film climaxes at midnight.
  • Opening Monologue: Baxter introduces himself and his predicament in narration at the beginning.
  • Pretty in Mink: Miss Kubelik has a coat with a huge lynx collar.
  • Product Displacement: The Blu-ray Discs removed United Artists' logo from the beginning. Surprisingly, the Arrow Video releases don't even replace it with the logo for UA's current parent.
  • Race for Your Love: Zigzagged. In the film's final scenes, Miss Kubelik leaves Sheldrake on New Year's Eve and runs to Baxter's apartment... but she's just hurrying to him, rather than running against any particular thing. Then, as she's almost there, she hears a noise distressingly similar to a gunshot, and runs faster... only to see Baxter with an opened bottle of champagne. In the end it turns out he was going to leave the titular apartment for good.
  • Recycled Premise: Billy Wilder decided to write a movie about a man who lends his apartment to adulterers after watching Brief Encounter, and becoming intrigued by how willingly the male lead's friend would let him carry out an affair in his flat.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: Adapted as the Broadway musical Promises, Promises, with a book by Neil Simon, music by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David.
  • Sexiled: An interesting variation, where there are no actual roommates, forms the whole premise of the film: Baxter's work colleagues constantly borrow the key of his apartment, so that they can use it for philandering.
  • Sexual Euphemism: Deliberately Invoked when Sheldrake hands Miss Kubelik $100 as a Christmas present, making it appear as if he's treating her like a prostitute. Her response is to give him a Death Glare.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The shot where the camera swoops in to find Baxter at one of a sea of desks is an homage to King Vidor's 1928 silent classic, The Crowd.
    • Trying to schedule a tryst with one of the company switchboard operators, one of the bosses suggests they meet at the apartment on Thursday night. "Thursday?" she replies. "But that's The Untouchables with Bob Stack!"
    • Baxter tries to watch Grand Hotel on television but gives up when it keeps getting interrupted by commercials.
    • Baxter gets tickets to The Music Man from Sheldrake and tries to take Miss Kubelik to the show, only to get stood up.
    • One of Billy Wilder's own earlier films gets a Shout Out when Kirkeby tells Dobisch about Miss Kubelik staying at Baxter's apartment:
      Dobisch: No kidding. Buddy-boy and Kubelik having themselves a little toot!
      Kirkeby: Toot? More like a lost weekend. Neither of them showed up for work today.
    • "Sheldrake" was also the name of the movie producer in Wilder's Sunset Boulevard.
  • Sleeping with the Boss: Miss Kubelik. Who, as she learns from Miss Olsen, is only the latest in a long string of office conquests for Sheldrake.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Baxter's rather unnervingly thorough knowledge of Miss Kubelik hints at this.
  • Sudden Principled Stand: When Sheldrake asks Baxter for the key to his apartment for (unbeknownst to him) the final time, Baxter decides to finally cut everyone off from using his home as an adultery pad and to become a mensch.
  • Suicide by Pills: How Fran tries to kill herself at the start of the story that jump starts the main romance.
  • Take That!:
    • The Ditz that Dobisch takes to the apartment is a lampoon of Marilyn Monroe. (Billy Wilder had earlier directed Monroe in The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot, and didn't think much of her professionalism.) Lampshaded when Dobisch mentions that the girl even looks like Marilyn Monroe.
    • When Bud watches television, he finds that almost every station is playing a violent Western, causing him to grimace and keep turning the channel.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The original trailer almost immediately reveals the movie's closing scene.
  • Urban Legend Love Life: Baxter's neighbors see all of the girls cycling through the apartment and come to the conclusion that he's The Casanova.
    Dreyfuss: From what I hear through the walls, you got something going for you every night.
    Baxter: I'm sorry if it gets noisy.
    Dreyfuss: Sometimes, there's a twi-night doubleheader. (clicking his tongue) A nebbish like you!
  • Verbal Tic: The office workers in the film have the habit of adding the suffix -wise to words. At one point, Baxter even says "otherwise-wise". The tagline on the movie's original poster: "Movie-wise, there has never been anything like The Apartment love-wise, laugh-wise, or otherwise-wise!" Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's screenplay ends thusly, following Miss Kubelik's "Shut up and deal" line:
    "Bud begins to deal, never taking his eyes off her. Fran removes her coat, starts picking up her cards and arranging them. Bud, a look of pure joy on his face, deals — and deals — and keeps dealing. And that's about it. Story-wise."
  • Wham Shot: Baxter looks at Fran's cracked mirror and realizes it's the same one he'd found in the apartment and given back to Sheldrake earlier.
  • Woman Scorned: Miss Olsen, Sheldrake's secretary and one of his earlier conquests, reveals his serial philandering to Fran and then (after Sheldrake fires her for this) his wife.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Dr. Dreyfuss encourages Baxter to "be a mensch", while Mrs. Lieberman opines that the bad weather "must be from all that meshugaas at Cape Canaveral." Kirkeby calls Baxter a "schnook" behind his back. Vanderhof admires "the whole schmear" that Baxter has received with his new office.
  • Your Makeup Is Running: Miss Kubelik lampshades this trope when cleaning up her face after a cry.
    "When you're in love with a married man, you shouldn't wear mascara."