Karyn Gerhard is a senior editor at Alpha Books and an information addict looking for an adventure. This blog documents her explorations into of all those dusty corners of human culture that no one has bothered to clean in years.
J.D. Sheldrake: Ya 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.
Hooking up to get ahead in your job—we all know it goes on. C.C. Baxter wants to get ahead, but he won’t give up his morals to do it. He would, however, give up his key.
There is only one name in Hollywood that can make me gush like a schoolgirl with a crush on the star football player: Jack Lemmon. Sure, he was a class-act type of guy who never had a hint of a scandal and was known for being the most generous, affable, and all-around good man, but he was also a great actor. Look at just a sample of his movies—Some Like it Hot, Days of Wine and Roses, Mister Roberts, The Odd Couple, Grumpy Old Men, Save the Tiger, The China Syndrome—each one is a classic, and he is spectacular in every one of them. There is one movie, though, that is not only my hands-down favorite Jack Lemmon movie, it is one of my favorite movies of all time.
The Apartment is one of those perfect-storm types of movies. You have writer/directer Billy Wilder (Sunset Blvd. Seven Year Itch, The Lost Weekend, to name a few) heading up the whole shebang, along with one of the best screenplays ever written (also by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond) and the stellar cast of Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, and Jack, as the definitive lonely guy. He breaks your heart and makes you root for him all at the same time.
Jack plays C.C. Baxter, a hapless, low-level peon at a huge insurance company. C.C. sits in a sea of other peons assessing risks all day long, but in his desire to move up the ladder, takes a huge risk himself—he gives out the key to his apartment to a bunch of upper management guys who are all looking for a place to take their mistresses, and who promise to get him a promotion for doing it. This of course leaves C.C. to wander the streets while his apartment is in use; he loathes the guys and hates doing it but he figures it’s worth it, if he can just get out of the peon sea.
C.C.’s got another problem—he’s head-over-heels in love with the elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). He’s got it bad for her, as does everyone else in the office, but she’s a good girl who isn’t taken in by any of their guff. She does like C.C., though; he somehow manages to wrangle a date with her, but she stands him up—for a reason no on ever sees coming.
Then it happens—he gets the promotion the upper management cronies promised him. He now works for the Vice President, J.D. Sheldrake, but there’s catch. Sheldrake wants the key, too. Sheldrake’s the worst of the lot—he’s not only married with kids, his mistress is none other than ….
Ah, but that’s giving away too much of the story.
Actually, the cast didn’t know what was happening from one scene to the next, either—according to MacLaine, almost all of the script was written as the film progressed. But what a brilliant script it is.
To step aside from Lemmon for a minute—Billy Wilder is one of the true geniuses of Hollywood. There are two classes of Wilder films—near perfection and absolute perfection. So many little nuances are crammed into every scene, including references to early Hollywood. Take, for instance, the opening scene, in which C.C. sits in the peon sea; this amazing shot is actually a nod to the scene of John sitting in a similar sea, in King Vidor’s 1928 masterpiece, The Crowd.
Wilder did it one step better, though. In order to make it seem as though the office went on forever, he had the set built in perspective, with larger desks in front and smaller in back, and populated the tiny desks with little people so that there would be action throughout the entire shot. It’s brilliant.
The cameos in this movie are also priceless—Edie Adams as Sheldrake’s secretary (and jilted lover) who’s looking for a way to get back at him; Ray Walston as one of the upper management cronies (who has the annoying habit of calling C.C. “Buddy-Boy”); and Jack Kruschen as the emotional Jewish doctor next door. Shirley MacLaine is more than wonderful as Miss Kubelik, the seemingly bubbly girl whose carrying a hefty amount of baggage. But the best of the supporting cast is Fred MacMurray, who is playing completely against type as the amoral slimeball, Jeff Sheldrake. This wasn’t the first time the usually clean-cut, wholesome Fred MacMurray played a bad guy, but it would be his last—and it is arguably his last great role on screen. After The Apartment MacMurray spent most of his time doing Disney films and being the loving dad on “My Three Sons.” But in this movie, he is that supreme jerk that you just love to hate.
And then there’s Lemmon. He is just flawless—honestly, they need to invent a whole new set of adjectives for just how wonderful he is. He alternates from being a giddy guy in love to a hapless peon, a drunken mess, a man boiling over with rage, and a heartbroken sot with such ease that it just takes your breath away. The look on his face when he realizes who Sheldrake has been taking to his apartment tears your heart in two. And his drunk scene with the brilliant Hope Holiday as the equally drunk wife of a jockey is absolutely priceless (she almost—almost—steals the scene from him).
So. Does C.C. get Miss Kubelik? Does Sheldrake get his comeuppance for being such a jerk? Does Margie’s husband get out of Cuba? Does Miss Kubelik keep making the same mistake, or will the countdown on New Year’s Eve make her see the light? Will C.C. give up his key to the executive washroom? I’m not saying—you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.
And that’s how it crumbles—cookie-wise.
Being a bachelor, C.C. has some pretty inventive ways of making food. In one of the best uses of sports equipment, he strains spaghetti through a tennis racket. In honor of C.C.’s culinary inventiveness, this week’s recipe is a tasty pasta dish—but if you’re going to use your tennis racket to make it, just make sure to wash it first.
Cook and drain pasta and place it back in the cooking pot. Immediately add cream, sour cream, Parmesan cheese, prosciutto, melted butter, salt, pepper, and parsley. Mix thoroughly and serve. Candles, flowers, music, and a white wine are good with this dish.
Variations: Use diced ham in place of prosciutto.
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cooking—for Guys by Tod Dimmick