C.C. Baxter: The mirror... it's broken.Another classic film about lost girls is Billy Wilder's 1960 The Apartment. It is described as a comedy but underneath the wit is a serious treatment of exploitation in corporate America. According to Turner Classic Movies:
Fran Kubelik: Yes, I know. I like it that way. Makes me look the way I feel.
~from The Apartment (1960)
While it may be hard to imagine now, The Apartment (1960) actually shocked some moviegoers upon its initial release. The problem wasn't the central premise - an ambitious office worker performs dubious favors in exchange for career advancement - but the actual treatment of it. In the hands of writer-director Billy Wilder and his collaborator, scenarist I. A. L. Diamond, The Apartment became a razor-sharp farce that equated corporate success with immorality. Actually, filmmakers in communist Russia viewed it as an indictment against capitalism. The central character, [C.C.] Baxter, is actually little more than a pimp for upper management while the girl of his dreams, elevator-operator Fran Kubelik, is a demoralized working girl whose solution to a failed love affair is to commit suicide....The most astonishing thing about The Apartment is how Billy Wilder manages to keep the tone light and playful while exposing the worst aspects of Manhattan corporate life, from the drunken office parties to the casual adultery committed by married employees. Despite these controversial elements, the film racked up ten Oscar nominations and won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director of 1960.For those who think that all was moral in the America of the 1950's and that hell did not break lose until the mid-sixties, they have only to watch The Apartment to be disillusioned. It is amazing how the executives in the office take it for granted that the young women employees are at their disposal, to use and discard at their pleasure. The big boss, Mr. Sheldrake, goes through the girls at the office faster than Louis XV went through mistresses at Versailles, and I doubt that Louis XV was such a two faced liar. An insurance clerk C.C. Baxter, in order to rise in the corporation, is prevailed upon by the upper echelon to let them use his apartment for liaisons. Such lackadaisical attitudes about adultery, cloaked by a veneer of respectability, certainly paved the way to the breakdown of family life that we have now.
Shirley MacLaine plays Fran the elevator girl who has one heartbreak too many. C.C. Baxter, the office worker who pimps out his apartment in exchange for career advancement, is portrayed with humor and poignancy by Jack Lemmon. It is a poignant role since in spite of his apartment being such an active place, he leads a lonely life, and is not at peace with himself. How could he be? His conscience is the Jewish doctor down the hall. Dr. Dreyfuss saves Fran's life and is one of the only truly noble characters in the film.
In the end, it is Baxter's love for Fran that inspires him to rise out of the slime of compromise and lose his career in order to do what is right. Refusing to cooperate with evil might bring about the loss of a job but it is also the only way to true freedom and peace of mind. In this case, Baxter's stand also releases Fran from her sordid relationship with Mr. Sheldrake. The Apartment was followed by Breakfast at Tiffany's in which the hero and heroine are much deeper into whoredom, showing how there can be many kinds of slavery, even in a free land. Share