More Than Meets The Mogwai

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

An Act of Humanity from a Supposed Cynic: A Scene from Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT (1960)

If there was a moment in all of THE APARTMENT (1960) that economically expresses the innate character of the lovelorn, corporate-climber C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), it would be this one:

Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) greets Baxter in the downstairs lobby of their monolith building. She notices the addition of his name at the top of the list of the corporate offices (this taking place after Baxter has seen Kubelik at her worst, following her spontaneously-planned, pill-popping suicide attempt at the titular apartment; she assumes that he’s been promoted due to his helping his boss/her married paramour (Fred MacMurray) out of this messy situation; and she’s right).

There’s knowingness in their gestures to one another, and a resignation on the part of MacLaine as she figures he’s assimilated with the depicted businessman credo of cheating on your wife (after Baxter points to an attractive bimbo waiting in the corridors). In the scene, we’re actually aligned with Kubelik, something fairly rare in the film when Lemmon’s on-screen; we’re insinuating and deducing this, too. He’s finally sold out.

But, no, once Kubelik’s on her way, the camera pans left and we’re left to witness – off into the distance – Lemmon’s two-step past the “hot date”, as she’s swept off by another white collar.

(Other viewers may point to the earlier scene where Baxter frenetically changes channels in front of his tinfoil-ripped t.v. dinner before defiantly turning it off, signaling his morose displeasure at the mundane luxuries that accompany his loneliness in the few remaining conscious hours that make up the time away from his humdrum drone workplace. But this feels rote and commonplace, and as cynical as it may seem on the surface, the added charm of the late-night movie gag (“we proudly present…Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, and…Lionel Barrymore in…GRAND HOTEL!, but first…”) takes something away from the focus on Baxter’s glum demeanor.)

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