“A man tries to rise in his company by letting its executives use his apartment for trysts, but complications and a romance of his own ensue.”
There’s a reason this film was nominated for ten Academy Awards. There’s a reason that this film won five of those awards, including Best Picture.
There are very few filmmakers/screenwriters that I know of that can tell a story in the way that Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond can. In Wilder’s 4th film to make it on AFI’s list of 100 greatest films over 100 years, his writing and directing is just as good as ever.
But, let’s talk about the writing. It’s always a pleasure to watch a film where the dialogue feels natural. The dialogue in this film flows so nicely. It’s as if these characters are real people, not actors. It’s as if we are inside their lives, like flies on the walls. It just all feels so normal. Wilder and Diamond bring us in at such chaotic moments in these character’s lives. It makes it so much more enticing. Not to mention the great lines in this film.
“Why do all you dames live in the Bronx?”
“You mean, you bring other dames up here?”
“Certainly not. I’m a happily married man.”
“The mirror is broken.”
“Yes. I like it that way. Makes me look the way I feel.”
“When you’re in love with a married man, you shouldn’t wear mascara.”
“My place or yours?”
“Might as well go to mine. Everybody else does.”
And those last lines. I mean, COME ON.
“You hear what I said, Ms. Kubelik? I absolutely adore you…”
“Shut up and deal.”
UGH. Perfection. Right on par with Wilder’s previous film, Some Like It Hot.
Quite often in Wilder’s films, you get more information from the writing than from any actual visual. This film begins with voice over. Now, voice over can be quite hard to do because you don’t want it to feel like the voice over is happening just for the sake of unloading a bunch of information on the viewer as quickly as possible. Wilder nails it in this film, however. Not once does it feel like it’s an overload or that it’s useless or just a filler. It feels very natural. And we learn so much about our main character. We learn that he’s a bit of a pushover, that he’s single, and that he tries his best to keep his place tidy. He enjoys the work he does at Consolidated Life (which, Baxter eventually achieves: a consolidated life) because he’s good at it. And, he is embarrassed by the fact that all of his bosses use his apartment as a get-away for all of their dates and mistresses. Within ten minutes of the film, we learn all of this and not once does it feel like it’s too much. That’s good writing.
Some people think that you should find the actor to fit the character that has already been written. Wilder, did not believe this. Wilder believed that, you write the character, you find an actor who can play that character, and then you cater that character to the actor’s strengths. And it worked out tremendously for Wilder in all of his films, this one included. The performances of both Jack Lemmon as CC Baxter and Shirley MacLaine as Ms. Fran Kubelik are entrancing. It will forever be a crime that Jack Lemmon did not win the Oscar for Best Actor in this film because, man oh man, did he deserve it. (Now, I have not seen Burt Lancaster’s performance in Elmer Gantry, so I don’t know if I can fully say that Lemmon deserved it. But, let me ask you this. Do you, to this day, hear more about Lancaster’s performance (in a film I’ve never heard of, btw) or about Lemmon’s performance?) Lemmon is charming. He is sweet. He starts out as a push over and, by the end of the film, has developed a back bone. Shirley MacLaine’s performance…there are no words for me to properly describe it. She brings such a vulnerability to the character of Fran Kubelik. You can’t seem to take your eyes off the screen whenever she’s on it. You don’t want to.
The music in this film, composed by the wonderful Adolph Deutsch, is beautiful. It’s subtle. It’s not “in your face”. But it’s there, and you notice it. It beautifully adds to the background of whatever scene it’s in. Everything from the music to the dialogue to the lighting and to the set design blends seamlessly together. It’s as if we, the audience, are peeking through a window, not looking at a movie screen. It’s genius.