Dir. Billy Wilder, US, 1960, 125 mins
Review by Joyce Dundas
This is Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder at their absolute best. The kind of uncomfortable comedy that they both excel at, with a lovely unconventional romance thrown in .
It’s a simple tale, well for its time it is shall we say. Lemmon plays C.C ‘Bud’ Baxter, or Buddy Boy as he is patronisingly named by his colleagues. He happens to be the lucky lessee of a Upper Manhattan apartment, who is finding the corporate ladder impossible to climb through simple graft alone. When one of his colleagues needs a crash pad for him and his bit on the side, Bud lends him his flat for the night. Word of this handy arrangement travels fast and before he knows it he is vacating his flat on a regular basis to accommodate his voracious, adulterous workmates.
He keeps his mouth shut, cleans up their mess and makes excuses to his neighbours, all for the promise of promotion. And you would dislike Bud if it wasn’t for Lemmon’s portrayal. How can you criticise this guy? He is the everyman, the hardworking guy overlooked by the talentless managers. He doesn’t take part in their game to bed every woman in the office. In their world the more of a challenge she is, the more she is sought after.
Enter Shirley MacLaine as Miss Kubelik, the lovely elevator attendant who takes no prisoners when it comes to sexual harassment and is beyond the seedy, illicit encounters his peers thrive on. Or so we think.
Bud finds himself falling for her outspoken and frigid charm and even takes her on a date. Little does he know she has made the date to play games with her married lover, Mr Sheldrake – even the character names are great – played by McMurray. He is at his matinee idol, slimy, grinning best here. In fact, Wilder always brought out the best in McMurray just see him in Double Indemnity for proof of that. His character Sheldrake is married of course, but his wife doesn’t understand him.
Unfortunately, Sheldrake happens to be the Big Boss and Bud finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to allow the girl he likes meet up with the man who could destroy his career in his own flat. When Sheldrake jilts her on Christmas eve to be with his family, she tries to commit suicide and only Bud and his very understanding, if disapproving neighbour, come to her aid.
This is a great film. They don’t make romcoms like this any more, in fact they haven’t done for such a long time. The romance between two misfits, whose disappointment when they both realise each others real character is tempered by their liking for each other, is something Wilder could direct in his sleep. “Nobody’s perfect” as his famous line from Some Like it Hot would have us remember.
The film was nominated for 10 Oscars and won five, including Best Picture and Best Director for Wilder. See, the Academy does get it right sometimes.