Only a man could have written this movie (it was Billy Wilder, and he directed, too). And only men could have written all the glowing reviews of The Apartment that I’ve found both online and off (one notable exception is at Nick Davis’s Movie Archive — he finds the movie as distasteful as I do). The Apartment is a perfect demonstration of why “nice guys” get a bad rap from women, but that seems to go right over the head of all those men praising it.
Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a dweeby little loser who pushes pencils at a big New York insurance company. His caddish superiors “borrow” his West Side apartment for assignations with their mistresses, in return for which Bud is promised a promotion. He works unpaid overtime to kill the hours while his place is occupied, and he’s such a limp little nebbish that he lets one of the executive jerks talk him out of his bed at 11 o’clock at night for a quick rendezvous, leaving an already sick Bud to wander the cold streets waiting for his guests to leave.
Bud gets his promotion, but the situation gets complicated when he falls for cute-as-a-button Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), an elevator operator at the insurance company who’s having an affair with one of Bud’s short-term tenants, bigshot Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray, whom I’ve always thought was creepy, and here he’s perfectly cast).
It’s impossible to feel sympathy for any of The Apartment’s characters. The execs manipulate their girlfriends, their wives, and Bud; Fran is fool enough to believe Jeff’s constantly put-off promises to divorce his wife; and Bud is an obsequious, sycophantic little weasel, which would be fine if he were the object of Wilder’s satire, but Bud is the hero.
“Why can’t I ever fall in love with somebody nice like you?” Fran moans to Bud. This “nice” man is a boor, eager to share his font of useless facts and figures such as the average number of colds New Yorkers get each year. This “nice” man looks up Fran’s group insurance card at the office, so he knows everything about her, down to her appendix scar (er, that’s called stalking, Bud). This “nice” man doesn’t dissuade his neighbors’ belief that he’s the one squeaking the bedsprings with a different dame every night — he’d like to be seen as that kind of man. This “nice” guy can’t say the one little word that would save him a world of trouble: No.
It’s movies like The Apartment that make men think that “nice guy” equals “doormat.” Newsflash: Women don’t find a Milquetoast who can’t assert himself or make better conversation than flu trivia or an inappropriate exclamation of “I love you, Miss Kubelik” any more appealing than one who enjoys punching women and whose favorite expression is “Get me another beer.” There are two kinds of men in The Apartment: the cad and the “nice guy.” Many men seem to believe that that applies to the real world, too: If women don’t want a jerk, they want a doormat. ’Tain’t so.
The Flick Filosopher in no way endorses censorship, but movies like The Apartment, pretending to be satirical but actually more of a morality play, should come with a label: Warning — No connection with reality.
Oscars Best Motion Picture 1960
AFI 100 (1998 list): #93
unforgettable movie moment:
Bud, ill-equipped bachelor that he is, has to use a tennis racket to drain spaghetti.
previous AFI 100 film:
92: A Place in the Sun
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