[spoilers for The Apartment]
C.C. Baxter’s non-descript walk-up in The Apartment is like any other apartment in New York City – one bedroom, a kitchen, a washroom, and a cozy living area, with a table brought out only for meals. But this apartment is the key to C.C. Baxter’s potential success at Consolidated Life, where he hopes to move from pencil-pushing to a corner office faster than the company’s other 32,000 employees. Baxter’s apartment might not be much, but well-stocked with cheese, crackers, and a bit of booze, it’s the perfect rendezvous point for company execs and the girls they’re seeing on the side.
Baxter’s corporate interests rise significantly when Personnel Director Jeff Sheldrake gets wind of the apartment and offers a juicy promotion in exchange for exclusive use of the apartment. Baxter knows better than to ask any questions. Instead, now that he’s a well-heeled exec, he asks out Fran Kubelik, the comely elevator operator who’s been a breath of fresh air in an office otherwise full of men and women looking out for number one. She stands him up; he doesn’t know why (we do – she’s just renewed her relationship with Sheldrake). The next day, Baxter discreetly returns a compact with a broken mirror that Sheldrake’s girl left in his apartment.
This scene is the office Christmas extravaganza. Baxter is giddy with his new private office and ridiculous bowler hat, but Fran has just learned the devastating truth about Sheldrake. This is one of the most heartbreaking scenes Wilder ever filmed, and a perfect example of how his subtle filmmaking style could tell so much through showing, even though he’s best known for his trenchant dialogue. Lemmon and MacLaine are utterly perfect, as they each come face to face with the harsh reality of dashed hopes and yet must put up a front for the other.