S1: Hello and welcome to Flashback, Slate’s podcast about older and classic movies, I’m Slate’s movie critic Dana Stevens, and I’m here, as always, distantly talking in the ether, the chaos and columns of Rolling Stone.
S2: Hey, Ken, how’s it going? Pretty good. This is our fiftieth show that we’ve ever done. So happy fiftieth. Happy Anniversary. And so you picked this episode’s choice, The Apartment, the Billy Wilder movie from 1960 as a kind of celebratory piece. Why did it feel that way to you?
S3: I think I chose it because it was a movie I hadn’t seen in a while. And, you know, I mean, people didn’t hear this, but I had a whole bunch of crazy ideas for what to choose. But this one just felt like the right one. I will say, though, I saw a mean immediately after choosing it and noticed that in Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond is 50. And that would have been same director, another great best picture winner. That would also have been appropriate. But I think I was Jones enough for some Shirley MacLaine. Gosh, one of my favorite, favorite, favorite actors. This is one of my favorite of her performances. And I was in the mood for some widescreen black and white and some awkwardness and some nervousness and some cuckolding and, you know, never doesn’t hit the spot.
S2: At least for me. This movie, I mean, I feel like I can remember each individual screening of it in my life, even though I’ve seen it a lot, and that they all have just that feeling of compactness and satisfaction. You know, this movie has this kind of compact perfection that is all about the writing. Is it really written movie? And I’m sure we’ll talk about that. And you know, just how the screenplay, which is by Billy Wilder and I’ll Diament, his writing partner for many years and also for their previous movie, I think some like it hot. They both wrote together. They just have this snap, crackle kind of dialogue, really tight story construction. You know, how many moments in the apartment do you stop and just say, like, oh, the way that that, you know, secret was revealed was so economical. Right. Or like the way that detail gave away something about the character of this detail of the set or of the costume. There’s just a tremendous almost like domino like set of, you know, story events, setting off other story events.
S3: That’s very easy. And I’m glad you said that, because one of the things that I was I came prepared to say today was also that I’ve seen it a number of times as well. But there are things that I forget about in terms of where they happen in the sequence of the story because of the emotional beats that they hit. For example, I was maybe an hour and a half into the movie and I was like, wait, did I miss the spaghetti thing? It’s something that I would think would somehow come earlier because there’s so many complicated emotions throughout the movie. But it’s generally kind of something that in my mind, I’ve placed pre pill swallowing Shirley MacLaine, because I kind of am so sad after that for her.
S2: Yeah, I know. That makes me realize that it is oddly placed right in the classic romantic comedy. It was the up to be establishing the way he lives. This is his bachelor lifestyle. Right. And you see the tennis racket on many occasions. There’s a lot of shots that have the tennis racket in the background is sort of like the Chekhov gun that’s going to go off. But yeah, it’s like a romantic comedy beat that happens after a suicide attempt, which is a very bold thing to do.
S3: That’s exactly what I was feeling. But the tightness and everything that you’re talking about and the wonderful construction of the movie visually and writing wise and acting wise, all of it, it just makes you notice the things that feel kind of quote unquote, out of place, but that are really just dynamic, adventurous and pretty incredible choices made in the writing. Yeah, definitely one of the best best picture winners, I think. And I’m looking at the films that it was nominated against. And yeah, I agree with the story. I haven’t seen all of them. But I got to say, with these actor choices, I love Elizabeth Taylor. I think that Shirley was robbed. I love to Taylor win for Butterfield eight. That she did. Yeah. I love I love Burt Lancaster, but I feel like I’m howling at the moon by criticizing an academy choice. But I just disagree. I disrespectfully disagree. I think that as good as the writing is, the micro expressions on these actors faces and the entire cast, but particularly these to the ways that they can anchor us emotionally and, you know, these wide images in which they are sometimes intentionally meant to be sort of lost in the clutter, the gestures that I mean, we got to talk about Shirley MacLaine in the way she pushes elevator buttons, which the first time I saw this movie, I was like, OK, I’m all in purely because of the way that she does that circle thing. Why don’t you vote for best actress for that alone? I like. Right.
S2: But that just speaks to the academy’s longtime resistance to comedy. Right. Which makes it almost amazing. I did when all of those top prizes, because it was a funny movie and it was marketed as a funny movie, and yet it got that kind of recognition.
S3: You know that funny movies usually don’t and still don’t, you know, I mean, I got to say, even our pal Bosley likes this movie, Bosley Crowther. Usually we disagree with him, but even he was all in on this. Really, that seems like among the criticism that I read, I don’t know if you found this as well. There were the objections to the ways in which it’s a movie about sex in so many ways. But it does seem like even the grumps got it.
S2: Well, Pauline Kael didn’t like it, which is interesting. But apparently Alan Kael never liked Billy Wilder. And there’s some fun stuff in that wonderful book of interviews that Cameron Crowe did with Billy Wilder, which whenever Billy Wilder’s name comes up, I talk about that book because it’s really a great way to get to know him. It’s essentially unedited conversations of the two of them had over a period of months. But there’s a very funny moment where Billy Wilder just frankly acknowledges, oh, yeah, Paul, you could never stand me, but I still like her writing. She’s a great critic. He has a lot of equanimity about whether or not she prefers his movies. But the thing that she didn’t like about his movies seems especially not apropos of the apartment, which is that I think she thought he was sort of like a cold technical craftsman. I think the thing on him was something like, oh, yes, the laughs come at their correct places, but it’s all very calculated and mechanical or something like that, which you’d have to have a real windfall of amazing comedies around you to find this comedy something rote and mechanical. But I think the apartment you could maybe argue is one of the warmest movies Billy Wilder ever made.
S3: And then an unpredictable one to me, you know, I mean, there are the things about it that stack up and make sense, you know, happy endings, et cetera. But I am, again, as with the academy, dear Pauline, respect you. But I disrespectfully disagree with that take. I don’t see it. I think what’s really remarkable about this movie and the reason I’m glad we’re talking about it is because I’m still surprised by it and I’m still finding things in it. And I don’t know how I would have felt if I’d been always advertised to me as a comedy as such, because I think part of what’s so timeless about it is this grave proximity to real sorrow and real loneliness. And that’s something that comes across in the performances and it comes across in the staging in the office and in the apartment. And I don’t know. I don’t see that. But, you know, a question I have for you, actually, because we’re talking about Billy Wilder, who’s a man, someone who had hits, I would say, where’s this fall for you in the Billy Wilder matrix? I was going to say some other word that was more specific because I used to work at the ringer. I used to work at a sports site. But I’m not going to use one of those words. But where does this fall for you? Is Billy Wilder kind of one of your guys, as I say, is Billy Wilder one of my guys?
S2: I think I would say that he is in the sense that he’s it to me in the pantheon of, you know, directors who could not be imitated. Right. Who created an that’s entirely theirs. And I delight in that. But I feel like he’s not one of my original guys who maybe became more one of my guys as I got older and saw more of his movies and started to get a sense of his sensibility outside of the, you know, you might think of as the big five or so Sunset Boulevard there, some like it hot. I mean, the ones that would be in any Billy Wilder retrospective. Right. But then when you start digging into really cynical comedies like Ace in the Hole, the Journalism Comedy, or Stalag 17, you know, straight dramas that he did, he was incomparable. But what I say, he’s one of the closest to my heart directors. Maybe not. Maybe that has to do with the technical capability Kael is talking about. But I do find many of his movies enormously moving this maybe the most among them. Right. I mean, this may be the movie that most manages to chart some sort of happy ending, some sort of humanist or hopeful path through this very cynical vision that Wylder films tend to have on the social world. And I really hope we get into that in our conversation. I mean, this is really a romance, right? It’s a great romantic comedy, but it’s also kind of a social tragedy, you know, and the social problem is not solved at all at the end. It’s just simply that art hero and heroine have kind of managed to carve out a different space within it.
S4: Yeah, I mean, man to people who could really use a union, let’s say.
S3: I think just because unionizing is in the air and media right now, I just kept thinking y’all need a union and an H.R. office and our office and all kinds of things need to happen. And I think that’s part of what is so timeless about it. Personally, Wylder. He’s funny because I feel like I remember the moment in college when I realized that Sunset Boulevard and this movie and some like it hot, were all directed by the same person. And it was a memorable thing for me, because so often we think of actors when we’re speaking of using kind of the outraced language of that school of criticism, we think about personal style and a sense of consistency. And I think the cynicism that you’re pointing out is something that is consistent throughout his career. But I think that what’s. Really powerful about Wylder, who for some reason, I also wouldn’t put in my, like, high, high, high echelon, despite being on the verge of saying something that would justify putting him there. I just think what’s remarkable about him is, you know, as the kids say online, he has the range, I think, about how good these films across his career are. And I’m including films like The Last Weekend, which is not a film that I think people talk about as often anymore. But one of the best filmmaking experiences of my life was actually this is going to sound weird, but it was when Hurricane Sandy was hitting and my roommates and I before we lost power the last weekend was on it must have been TCM. I don’t know who else had been showing it. And we didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know that it was a Billy Wilder movie. We just started watching it. And you know, those experiences where you’re watching a film and you just are so enwrapped that the film ends and you realize you didn’t get up like you didn’t stop watching the movie, you could have changed the channel. That was my experience with stumbling into Sunset Boulevard for the first time as a kid, Double Indemnity Ace in the Hole. He’s really done that to me a number of times. And the apartment, like once I start watching this movie, I can’t not see where things go because of the construction and how quickly it’s established that this guy is locked out of his apartment for the most silly and nefarious and uncorruptible reasons. I can’t not see where that movie goes.
S2: Yeah, I think that effect you’re talking about of, you know, you sit down to watch it and then suddenly it’s over, has everything to do with what I was talking about, you know, but just about those tightly interwoven stories that just catch you up in their threads. So given that Billy Wilder is as much characterizes a writer as he is a director. Right. You know what his tombstone says, right? It’s one of my favorite inscriptions. I don’t actually where it says Billy Wilder in the span of his life and it says, I’m a writer, nobody’s perfect. And that was what he had written for his own tombstone. So he conceived of himself very much as a writer. And I thought you meant something to say about how the writerly nature of his work kind of ties into our conversation here.
S3: Well, I think it’s worth, first of all, just, you know, a little wilder history. This is, again, a director that we’re covering who’s Hollywood career is in part the story of fleeing from the Nazis. But, you know, he was writing in Germany starting in nineteen twenty nine and before he moved to the US, and I believe it was the 30s before he directed a film for the first time in 1934. And there was a gap between that film and the next film he directed in nineteen forty two. But in the midst of that he had over 20 films that he had written and it’s a mix. So he had, for example, a ball of fire. The Howard Hawks film that is under scene in part because it’s kind of a little bit harder to see Ninotchka, the lubitsch’s foam. I mean, you know, again, his comedy chops I think, are really key and key to what we’re talking about with his cynicism, what we’re talking about with the rhythm and the structure of his films. You know, I mean, nineteen forty four, for example, is when Double Indemnity comes out. That’s noir. He jumped around a lot. But what seems to be really consistent is very sharp writing and sharp writing in terms of kyenge structure, but also good lines. I mean, nobody’s perfect is the great closing line of some like it hot and it’s sort of one of those I’ve noticed you had to be their lines where I’ve mentioned how funny it is, I think because Anthony Lane, the name of his collection of reviews, put out a number of years ago, is Nobody’s Perfect, which is a reference to some like it hot. But you kind of have to hear it in the movie to understand why it would be the kind of thing that Billy Wilder would put on his tombstone or why it’s so memorable. But this film is a good mix of great lines in exquisite, complicated, set up and elements of surprise in terms of where things are going emotionally. And that’s something that’s true of all the films of his that I’ve seen, just these great premises, you know, Ace in the Hole, Amazing premiers Sunset Boulevard last weekend, which gets a kind of verbal nod. And toward the end of this movie, when Shirley MacLaine, brother in law, shows up, someone mentions last weekend all these things are like really exquisitely set up. But I think what distinguishes wylder and I think where you can see him, his skill and his maturity as a writer really coming out in this movie is that for all the ways the setup is very clear, the ways that emotionally it gets so much more tangled as you go along, the dramatic irony, you know, the ways that we kind of know whose apartment it is by the time the plane gets there. But she doesn’t know the ways that we know that she’s with the boss. But Jack Lemmon doesn’t know that yet. And then the ways that these things come out and the power that they have when they do. It takes great actors to get that, but the actors are working with a great script, and while there is kind of famous for not really allowing much in the way of improvisation, except for a few things that Jack Lemmon does in this movie, some of the most memorable things that I’m glad that while they’re loud involving, you know, tennis racket.
S2: Yeah, it seems like they involve gags. Yeah, right. Because also that moment when he squirts the eye drops, which for some reason always makes me laugh so hard that you’re just not expecting it. Basically spit take in the midst of this verbal comedy scene. Right. But that I think was Lemann’s idea as well.
S3: Yeah. Let Lemon loose. You know, I can’t say that we’re obviously going to get into the actors, but, you know, I think we should also point out that it was partially because of the success of some like it hot that they did this film, that they did this collaboration. And it really feels like I don’t know if you know this, I don’t know. But it feels like a movie that was written for Jack Lemmon. I don’t know if that’s true.
S2: I don’t think that can be true because of how long the idea had been around. So do you know the story of the germination of the script at all?
S3: I don’t actually.
S2: I would love to hear that it is actually related to another movie, a movie that I would have loved to talk about on Flashback at some point, which is Brief Encounter, the David Lean movie from 1935 Great Movie Rights, A Brief Encounter, if you haven’t seen it. Is this achingly romantic? It’s based on a Noel Coward play, this essentially mixed encounter right between this married woman and a man that she loves but ends up giving up at the end. OK, I spoil it for you anyway.
S3: OK, it’s been decades since a out people could deal.
S4: It’s World War One era people. Yeah.
S2: So apparently Wylder had seen brief encounter in 1945. Loved it. And the idea that he came out of the theater with was because there’s a moment in brief encounter where these two ill fated lovers meet in somebody else’s apartment, some schnooks apartment. Right. I mean, in the language of the apartment. And we never hear any more about that guy. They have an encounter there and then they leave. And Billy Wilder walked out and made some note about what? About the guy who gets home, you know, with his borrowed apartment and his sheets are still warm from this couple that was lying in them. What’s his story? And he couldn’t make that story at that time because it was 1945. It was just too racy of a story. Yeah. In fact, there were even problems as late as 1960 with the content of the story. So basically, he sat on that idea for all those years and, you know, luckily then found Lemmon, who was exactly born to play that she took part in the nebish of Nebish is probably my favorite movie, Nebish.
S3: And there’s so many to pick from. But you know what you’re saying about it kind of not being appropriate for the time that you can see. The idea is really interesting to me because I don’t know if you feel this way, but even as I watch it now, this is a very adult film. I don’t mean like adults an X rated. I mean, as I get older, more of the movie reveals itself to me, the dimensions of the movie and the romantic complications and the labor complications. It’s as a grown ass movie in the guise of something that feels like it leans toward something lighter and less substantial than it is. Because this is such a ridiculous scenario, it makes complete sense that you walk out of a drama as devastating as brief encounter with the silliest idea about the silliest detail. And I want to make a movie and spin a comedy out of that.
S2: That’s but an idea that has a lot of pathos to it. I mean that as the germinating image for this movie, you know, the idea of just coming back home and your sheets are warm from some, you know, more successful guy getting it on in your bed. You know, there’s also just a real tawdry kind of melancholy to that that this movie is very sensitive to. And I think at the time by some reviewers, it was regarded as tasteless. Right. But I think if there’s one thing that you could say is that it handles all of these questions that are so potentially demeaning as to what goes on in the apartment and, you know, what kind of moral compromises C.C. Baxter, his character has to make for that. It handles it with an enormous amount of delicacy, even delicacy toward, I have to say, some of the poly Hanzi bosses, the Fred MacMurray, you know, and their ilk.
S3: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think part of the reason that Jack Lemmon is so that you just that I feel like it’s a part written for him is because it’s a really delicate line. He has to walk in this film. First of all, I think about just his body and the sort of the smallness of his head in these huge spaces and the slope of his shoulders and the way that he just has a body that compared to the other men surrounding him, imposing themselves on him, he just feels like he was built to be imposed on. And this is something that really I think he uses well throughout his career, but probably for me, never better than here. You see him in the space of this movie. And it just makes sense that he’s the doormat. But he also has these really complicated moral choices to make, like the ways that he covers for Shirley MacLaine, for example, when he’s interacting with the doctor, he takes that onto himself in a way. And I think part of what you’re talking about, like the delicacy, is because a lot of that is just placed onto the apartment. It’s like the apartment is being prostituted here and like. He’s kind of being prosecuted here, and even though we know that this involves the women and they’re sort of being kind of used by their bosses, it displaces so much of it onto Jack Lemmon. You really need a particular kind of man to play that role. And I think he fits like lock and key. Only one key, not two keys.
S2: Yeah, something that my partner observed that was so smart is we were watching this together, had to do with the physicality of the other actors, particularly the men who aren’t Jack Lemmon and how they seem to come from a different era of film history. Right. For example, Fred MacMurray, who plays Sheldrake, right. The boss of the Jack Lemmon character, and Shirley MacLaine, as we come to learn lover and Ray Walston as his wonderfully snarky friend, who sort of sits around like a Greek chorus commenting on all the women that come in through the apartment. They seem to come from older Hollywood. And there’s something modern about both Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine just in their bearing in this sort of naturalness of their delivery that they seem to belong to this new era. You know, the post studio era in a way that the supporting characters don’t.
S3: Yeah. Which really matches sort of the implicit or really explicit dynamics of the movie, which is that they’re at the bottom rung. And, you know, I love a good metaphor. I love symbolism. So the elevator thing in itself, the changing of floors, the ways that she’s on the way up to, hopefully if this guy gets divorced as he’s been hanging over her head, a legitimate relationship with this man. And Jack Lemmon is on his way up to just better and better jobs because of the things that they’re both sacrificing of themselves. But it makes sense that there would feel like there’s this gap between this old guard of powerbrokers and these people who come off as younger and less cynical and less kind of keyed into that dynamic, but also using it, but being used. So that makes a lot of sense to me. And I mean, who could like I couldn’t look manly next to, like, Fred MacMurray. Right. And his head is like so much bigger than Jack Lemmon. And I don’t see that, like, in a derogatory way. He’s just a bigger guy. He’s got a football build. He could tackle Jack Lemmon to the ground with no effort.
S2: Yeah, I mean, casting is just one of those many things that this movie nails on every level. And I just must note, also, while we’re talking about the old guard guys that Ray Walston has appeared in another movie we’ve talked about in Flashback, a classic of the 80s, and he is a very iconic character in it. Could you know who I’m talking about?
S3: It’s not immediately coming to mind. But if he looks like I’ve seen him in something recently. But what was it?
S2: Yeah, he aged incredibly well. He looks much the same. He’s Mr. Hand in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
S3: He’s Sean Penn’s nemesis shot to. That’s right.
S2: Yeah. And the director, Amy Heckerling, was a huge fan of Billy Wilder, regards him as a huge influence. So she was utterly thrilled that she got Billy Wilder alumnus and her first movie.
S3: Oh, I bet. Oh, that’s amazing. Wow. Good for Amy Heckerling.
S2: There’s a lot of character actors in this that I recognize from other things, like Jack Krishan, who’s the character actor who plays the Jewish neighbor, who thinks that Jack Lemmon’s character is up to all kinds of high jinks, that he’s not is just somebody I saw everywhere in my childhood. He was on Dragnet. He was on Bonanza, he was on Columbo. He was just sort of the TV big, hearty, stocky guy. So it was fun to see him also in the early sixties, kind of starting his comedy career.
S3: Also, just another great actor in this film who was nominated for an Academy Award but did not win just as much shade at the Academy as I can throw. It didn’t win for cinematography either, but I’ll get there. I guess there are people out there who haven’t seen this, so we should probably tell them about what this is about.
S2: Yeah, well, I mean, I guess just to set it out there, if you haven’t seen the movie, you should really see it before this conversation and if not for sure, see it after we are introduced to this world, which seems to be contemporary. New York in 1960, through the eyes of C.C. Baxter, played by Jack Lemmon. And I believe when we first hear him, it’s a while we see him right. We have a sort of what would now be a drone shot over New York. It may be a model for all I know, as we hear him talk about actually this this image of loneliness. Right. That if you could take every person in the city and line them up end to end, they would reach to Taiwan or whatever his statistic is.
S3: Yeah. In this voiceover that opens the film, he comes off as this. Well, I mean, I think part of the punch line is when he eventually reveals that he works at an insurance company because, you know, at first it’s just all these statistics about the city, about his workplace. And, yeah, without even needing to say it, he immediately characterizes himself as someone who perhaps lacks a social life because he has a lot of room in his brain for these meaningless figures.
S5: On November 1st, 1959, the population of New York City was eight million forty two thousand seven hundred and eighty three. If you laid all these people end to end, figuring an average height of five feet, six and a half inches, they would reach from Times Square to the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan. I know facts like this because I work for an insurance company, Consolidated Life of New York, one of the top five companies in the country, our home office. Thirty one thousand two hundred and fifty nine employees, which is more than the entire population of Natchez, Mississippi. I work on the 19th floor, but we start by seeing him at work.
S3: You know, we get to the office. It’s an amazing set that I think was designed to evoke one of the great silent horror films, King Vidor’s The Crowd. And it’s, you know, these long rows of lights and of desks and just office drones. But we’re kind of set up to think, OK, a normal day at the work place in the 60s in an insurance job. Right. Like the epitome of an open floor plan.
S2: Can I make one note about that look stolen from King Vidor’s The crime, please. Just that in both cases it was done with forced perspective. So because I didn’t have a lot of space and a lot of extras, you know, they used basically smaller and smaller desks. And I believe in the case of the apartment, actually children in the very back desks so that people would appear to be smaller.
S3: So that’s that’s a cool thing to know about that scene.
S2: But the forced perspective also, in addition to saving money, does something to those scenes in both movies where it gives that room a very hallucinatory and unpleasant look, very much that look of, you know, the faceless mid 20th century workspace.
S3: Absolutely. And it’s amazing how anonymous he seems, even as he completely foregrounded in those shots. Like we really primarily, if not almost totally see the office from perched right in front of his desk like it does set you up to seeing this and seeing him in that space and hearing the voiceover for the obvious what comes next, which is and then he goes home and he lives his boring life. But that’s immediately it’s like very soon in the movie that the movie sort of takes a right turn because he can’t get into his apartment. It immediately sets us up for why can’t he get into his apartment? What’s going on in his apartment? Why is he hanging around outside instead of going home? And that’s when we see one of his higher ups. I believe at this point it’s Mr. Doveish coming out of the building with a woman. And then we get to him going upstairs to his apartment finally and cleaning up after them and trying to find something to watch on TV and the whole boring routine. But it’s interrupted by this kind of mystery of, you know, an interaction with the neighbor, him kind of being suspicious outside. I’m reminded of one of the first films we did actually for the podcast of Gaslight, some of the exterior shots of that building and waiting outside. It’s like there’s an air, a little bit of mystery, but it’s Jack Lemmon. So I know that there’s a punch line to it. And the punch line, really. I mean, he’s the joke, I think, and the cuckolding, the topic is the joke. But I can’t put my finger on when as a viewer, I realized, like, the full extent of what’s going on here.
S2: Yeah, I think that this sequence you might say this early first 10, 15 minutes where you figure out what the deal is with this apartment and why the guy has been kicked out of it is a lot of what I was talking about, about how this screenplay signifies so well through just little bits of business or props or outside of the screenplay, even the production design of that apartment, which is so perfect for the character, so unusual for the time, you know, it just seems like a much smaller and more cluttered and more sort of realistically shabby apartment than you would tend to see someone living in a Hollywood movie at that time. Right through the clutter is very specific. She’d say that design is by Alexander Trauner, who is this great production designer, much more known for huge sweeping things like you’ve seen Children of Paradise, the French movie set. Right. I mean, this incredible, sweeping, multigenerational epic with, you know, glorious carnival street scenes anyway, the fact that he had this pedigree of making these big European epics and then made this very kind of miniaturist Hollywood film, I think he really condensed a lot of love into that set. So I feel like I figured it out. I mean, it’s hard for me to know because I saw this movie so long ago for the first time that I can’t imagine not knowing C.C. Baxter situation. But, you know, when he started emptying the ashtrays and, you know, there’s lipstick on the cigarettes, I can’t remember if there’s a voiceover in that scene and he’s telling us anything, but I just remember being really impressed at how little exposition there was in that section of, you know, something that could easily have been set up. We’ve got a voiceover, right? I mean, we could have him just explain the whole thing. We can have a flashback. My boss called me to his office and said, will you do X, Y and Z? You know, and this is really an example, I think, of something that Billy Wilder did a lot, which was almost like accordion, two scenes together. You know, he often talked about how in some like it hot the moment that the two men come up with this idea that they’re going to escape from the gangsters by going in drag. Right. We just have them as men talking about it. Oh, maybe we should try this and then cut to them dressed as women for makeup, going to apply for a job. So he wasn’t interested in the moment in between where they’re gradually transforming. You know, and I sort of see that in the beginning of this movie, too. I feel like it accordion’s together, a lot of experiences is into a few scenes.
S3: I think it’s this really funny tension between, you know, on the one hand, actually, the script is giving us little hints. It’s in the interactions that he has with his neighbors on his way up to the apartment. You know, the one neighbor who’s like, you know, maybe you have a burglar because I heard a lot of noise in there or that whole sequence where they’re talking about him carrying all the empty. Bottles out of his apartment and the doctor’s like your liver must be made of iron, would you mind actually donating your body to science when you’re done because of all the sex you’re having and all the ways that you’re drinking? Right. Like this funny tension. But also I’m remembering when it is that it becomes clear what’s happening, because it’s a weird scenario. Like, I don’t think that you could totally map out even just from these details, that what he’s doing is lending his apartment out to more powerful men to bring their various office businesses. Like, I don’t think that you really know that much until that first night in the apartment, when he gets a call about someone else wanting to use his apartment that night, that’s what it is. He’s flipping through the TV. He’s finally eating dinner, and now he has to vacate his apartment again. And maybe the fact that he feels so obligated to vacate the apartment and sort of gives into this, I mean, that’s a lot of character in itself. But also this is when we get him leaving and going to the park and that great, great shot of the completely empty row of benches just shooting diagonally across the screen and him taking a seat.
S2: Yeah, that’s such a picture of loneliness. It’s like something out of like Kurosawa’s Kiuru or something. Right? I mean, is this real image of this sort of mid century alienation? Apparently, that was a real outdoor scene in the snow. And Lemon really did get a cold and had a cold for those parts of the movie where his character has won. And Billy Wilder was happy about that.
S3: Betty was.
S2: So that, you might say, is sort of chapter one that introduces you to the problem, the situation, the main character. But there’s somebody else important to come, and we encounter her in the very next scene on the elevator. You want to talk about Fran Kubelik?
S3: When wouldn’t I want to talk about Fran Kubelik? So after this awkward night, he has to go to work the next day. He, of course, has a cold because he was I don’t think it’s implied that he slept on the bench all night, but he was clearly there for a while. And the meat cute of this movie, which is not really the first time they’ve met, is getting on the elevator. And Miss Fran Kubelik, Shirley MacLaine is the elevator operator. And there’s a series of these scenes involving the two of them talking on the elevator and this one there happen to the other people there. I don’t know if you noticed this, but the body language is really interesting because in both cases, as he’s being kind of nerdy and kind of adorable and has a cold and is trying to strike up a conversation with her and she’s, you know, entertaining conversation. She’s very kind. She’s very polite and not just being nice for the sake of being nice. She comes off as a very sweet, sincere person and asks about his cold and all these things. But in both cases, her back is to him. And it’s like the body language is already telling us that whatever flirtation that he is trying to engage here, as far as she’s concerned, she’s taken. So she’s not entertaining his sort of jokey cuteness in that way, but she is being very kind to him. So it feels like a meat cue that’s doomed from the start by the fact that he’s just not on her radar at all. He’s just a writer on the elevator that she sees every day.
S2: So this second chapter of the movie, we could say begins with this. I wouldn’t call it a montage, but a sequence that focuses on C.S. Baxter’s ascension of the corporate ladder. I wonder if you have anything to say about this and about especially his encounter with Sheldrake, which was a name apparently Billy Wilder love to put in screenplays. He has several movies with a character named Sheldrake. In this case, it’s the I mean, what we would really consider now to be a very toxically abusive boss of both of them and also the one who is secretly having the affair with Frank.
S3: You believe are the other subjects all assault? Is this like the asshole code name for after?
S2: I’d have to go through and gather all my Sheldrake, but I think that they tend to be regular guys, you know, they’re always so funny to me.
S3: It’s all right. Gather you, Sheldrake. I mean, he’s an asshole, but this is sort of where things like an actor’s physical presence can matter because these are kind of at the top of the ladder. And so this is not even the first conversation that Jacqueline’s character has about this. You know, there are other lower down guys. There’s four other guys who are all using his apartment and they all kind of want to use it like that week. And he’s sick and he’s trying to get out of it. And everyone is making these promises about promotions. But it’s really when Sheldrake, the big brass, calls them into the office that he thinks that he’s going to get that promotion. And it starts off as a conversation where it feels like that might happen. Very imposing. Sheldrake sort of saying, you know, everyone recommends you very highly. And I think we realized before Jack Lemmon realizes that what Sheldrake is ultimately saying in this conversation is, you know, I want to use the apartment, too, and then you’ll really get a promotion because I’m the guy who can really make the promotion. Those other guys, the other four don’t matter as much as I do. I’m the one who is the boss of those guys. And that’s why they’ve all reported to me that they all. Your department for these nefarious purposes, I happened also to need the apartment. What do you say? I’ll trade you some theater tickets. So obviously, C.C. Baxter, buddy boy, as these guys call him, he’s enamored of Fran Kubelik. So obviously the thing he does the next time he sees her is to say, hey, do you want to go to the music man with me? And they have again, like another pleasant conversation, but also kind of a weird conversation. I don’t know if you remember, Dana. I think this is the moment where they’re walking and he reveals like, oh, I know everything about you. I know how many siblings you have, your Social Security number. This is one of the great things I think about Shirley MacLaine performance, that it’s like a long tracking shot that’s moving as they’re moving down the street, as he’s asking her on this date. And she’s kind of noncommittally but sort of promising that, you know, she has another date. But yeah, I’ll go to the music man. I’ll meet you there out in front of the theater. But when he starts coming out with this stuff about, like, all the things I know about you and the old bachelor that we meet at the beginning of the movie with all of us, it starts coming out, which is not, you know, of all the ways to pick someone up. I don’t think this is the way to go. I know your Social Security number and your address or whatever, but one of the great things I think about Shirley MacLaine and one of the great things I think about the way the first film is made is that because it’s a long shot, you get to see how the conversation on her end turned some really pleasant or any kind of like a mix of I like this guy, he’s nice. He’s a cute little dude in the office. But also I’m almost late to this other appointment that I have with the boss, which is actually a date, but also with this guy suddenly saying all these things about me, how does he know that it’s, of course, because he pulled her appointment card or something because he’s a nerd. I guess it’s a strange way in which Jack Lemmon does something that’s very weird but doesn’t come off as creepy as literally anyone else would. It’s a bit of exposition, too. It’s we’re setting up the date and we’re establishing or about to establish that the person she’s going on an actual date with is Sheldrake. And the reason that Sheldrake needed Jack Lemmon is apartment is because he is going to be bringing Fran Kubelik back to that apartment. And he doesn’t know that yet. He doesn’t know that Sheldrake is bringing this particular woman back to his apartment. That’s something that he figures out later. But, yeah, they don’t get to see that show.
S2: Right. And here’s one of the tragedies, is that neither of them went to see the Music Man in its original run on Broadway. Oh, I really want those tickets. And I’m extremely upset that nobody used them. So, yes, there’s in it a very sad stand up scene where we see Jack Lemmon waiting outside the music man with the two tickets the boss has given him. So once again, dramatic irony is really powerful there. And a kind of unusual framing of that shot where Lemmon is waiting outside. It’s almost romantic and melancholy in a way that Wilder didn’t usually do. And then the emotional shift between the you know, I wouldn’t call it upbeat, but there’s been a sort of snappy relaying of new information to the viewer this whole time since the movie started. Right. As we learn the setup at C.C. Baxter’s, et cetera, and this scene with Sheldrake, where she meets him for a drink and then essentially decides to spend the night with him, moving to this totally different register just so effortlessly and beautifully. And it suddenly becomes just a snapshot of what is clearly a kind of sadomasochistic emotional relationship between these two. Right. And that you get the sense immediately that it’s a horrible relationship for her, but one that she doesn’t feel that she has the power or strength to get out of. And it comes across in these tiny details. For example, maybe you know that they’re not meant for each other when he criticizes her haircut. Can you imagine not thinking that Shirley McLean’s haircut in the apartment was everything? But I mean, something about the paternalism of, like, your older married lover sitting down and saying, I don’t like your hair any more. Why did you cut it? That, to me, was almost shockingly insightful about I don’t know, I mean, female psychology and gender relations and something that I feel like somebody could still cut you down with.
S3: Absolutely. And, you know, I mean, there’s also as this stuff is happening, right. As a Sheldrake and Kubelik are on their date. But also a little bit earlier, when Boxer is going up to subject’s office, there are these telling because they’re lingering kind of shots on the woman who’s Sheldrake Secretary Miss Olsen, played by Edie Adams. There’s like a way that she looks at Baxter going into the office. There’s also the way that if you remember, Sheldrake and Kubelik are having this, what feels like it’s going to be a break up conversation, because she, I think, is getting tired of being strung along. But then they have to leave because other people from work show up. The person that we linger on at the bar is, again, the secretary, Miss Olsen. We find out why later. But there’s already something also being planted there as at the same time, the conversation between Sheldrake and Kubelik as poor Baxter is standing in front of the theater at The Music Man with a cold, waiting for a good look to show up the conversation. Really clarifies the deeply transactional way that Sheldrake organizes his life with these two people, like they don’t know that they’re connected in this way, Fran and C.C. Baxter run the way that he strings Fran along with, you know, I’m going to get divorced, I promise. And the way that he strings C.C. Baxter along with you’re going to get promoted. Obviously, you’re going to move from the 19th floor to the twenty seventh floor. If you do this for me, do me the solid and the ways that because it’s Baxter’s apartment, it’s Baxter’s crash, is this weird transactional thing between the three of them. It is to write a song I love, a bizarre love triangle. It is fucked up, but it’s also what an incredible germ of a premise. Right. Like all these connections between these people and the real sense of transaction, just something as I’m watching in my stomach just starts to feel really bad.
S2: Right? It’s an entire movie that’s almost like a round robin of different people trying to find a relationship that’s not transactional and no one succeeding until the very end. When, you know, in a romantic comedy style, we do get a sense that it may be possible for these people to have an authentic relationship that’s not mediated through economy in some way. And that that’s what makes this movie such a strong social critique without ever, ever having, you know, a moment on top of a soapbox. Yeah, there’s no sort of critique of capitalism. There’s not really even a capitalist bad guy. I mean, Sheldrake is sort of more of an interpersonal bad guy, but is not really shown as being some sort of symbol for the oppression of the economy. But it’s all in there. It’s in the architecture of the office, you know, and of the architecture of the apartment. And just of that sense that, you know, when he’s thrown out of his apartment, he’s got nothing. He’s the alienated bourgeois subject of mid 20th century. He seems to have no other family, no friends to go to. You know, of course, this is all stylize for the sake of the movie. But there’s there’s something irreducibly lonely about that C.C. Baxter character that’s so haunting.
S3: Yeah. And, you know, I mean, it’s like a place to go when his apartment is being loaned out to these other guys. There’s also just that scene back at the apartment between Sheldrake and Kubelik where so what you were saying earlier about the delicacy of the way the film handles these things, this happens a little bit further ahead, I think, after Christmas, because it’s a Christmas gift where she gets Mr. Sheldrake a Christmas gift and he hands her a one hundred dollar bill.
S2: It’s so heartbreaking. Oh, my God. We have to say, like, the whole exchange is so beautifully written because what she gives him is, of course, this very personal present. She says it’s that pianist who used to play at that Chinese restaurant we went to remember. So she gets him this very meaningful gift that we see him unwrap, which he doesn’t even take with them, of course, because his wife can’t find it right. And then he just has the gall to just peel off. Is it a hundred dollar bill?
S3: It’s one hundred dollars. Oh, yes. Because first of all, when she’s receiving it, there’s that just great shot where we move from kind of a higher angle shot of him holding the record as she gives it to him. And then we move to a lower angle shot where, you know, we see like his back a little bit. But we’re really eye level with her. She’s sitting on the couch and the way she’s looking up at him as he’s handing this bill down to her and just the way that life drains from her body. And he’s about to end the date because they’ve wasted so much time talking and kind of his eyes, whereas she does that thing where she starts to undress and she has that line about, you know, well, you paid for it, you know, just the way that he’s made her feel as it’s clarified in her expressions, in her eyes in particular, the way she’s looking up at him, it’s really just remarkable. Shirley MacLaine, just the way that she slowly starts to undress with this sense of like dead end kind of exchange and transaction. It’s just really heartbreaking because, yeah, as you said, it’s great writing in that it’s clear that she got him something so personal and it just sucks, you know, I don’t know a better word for it.
S2: Right. But the seriousness, the gravity and the painfulness of what’s just taken place between Sheldrake and Fran at the apartment makes the next plot twist, which could easily have seemed maudlin, actually seemed to flow perfectly from the state of mind that she’s in. Do you want to set that up? First of all, we have the Christmas party and the part of this movie that make people call it a Christmas to New Year’s movie. Right. We now have a week left to go in the story.
S3: So we should save for people following along that. This is the night of the office Christmas party, which is a pretty momentous night for a few reasons before we even get to this hundred dollar bill exchange. And one of them is that at the office Christmas party, the secretary that I just mentioned, Miss Olson, pulls Fran aside and basically gives her the lowdown. Right. She says, you know, before you there was me and, you know, these three other women. And in fact, part of the reason that she the. Secretary is stationed where she is, is sort of this extra nook of cruelty on the part of Sheldrick because as his secretary, she has to see all the other women walking into his office, that she’s sort of being punished. And I think that she’s acting out of a sense of we’re all in this together. Huh? But she doesn’t realize, I think, the extent to which France really is in love with this man despite herself. So when we get to this one hundred dollar bill exchange, that happens back at Baxter’s apartment. Basically, this is just like a devastating, catastrophic emotional event for her, so she winds up taking a bunch of sleeping pills after Sheldrake leaves Baxter’s apartment and attempt suicide, whereas Baxter also leaves the Christmas party a little bit sad because, you know, he has realized because of a mirror that he finds in that Fran recognizes he realizes that Fran is the woman that subjects can bring him back to his apartment. So he has his moment of, again, moping through the empty office, away from the party and going to a bar and getting very drunk and meeting a hilarious married woman whose husband is in Cuba for some reason. But she’s lonely, too, and he can’t go back to his apartment whenever he wants to because Mr. Sheldrake is supposed to be there with Fran, he realizes, but eventually he does get back to his apartment with this married woman and comes home to find that Fran is unconscious. And this is when it gets dark, dark and also farcical.
S2: I mean, there’s such a weird moment when those two storylines converge, right? Because the things that were essentially parallel cutting between or at least we know are happening at the same time are, you know, heartbroken woman tries to kill herself in this empty apartment and this really goofy, almost sex Forestdale scene. Right, of a drunken Jack Lemmon kind of talking up this married lady in a bar and the two of them doing this comic dance. And then when they come together, there’s this really unusual sequence that, you know, we know that this terrible thing is happening in the other room. Right. We’ve seen her lying there asleep, possibly dead in his bed. But meanwhile, in the front of the apartment, there’s all this coming and going. And what’s going to happen to the drunk lady from the bar? And, you know, the Jewish neighbor who’s a doctor is coming over thinking that Jack Lemmon is causing all of this romantic drama. And so there’s this funny combination in this scene of almost like door slamming sex farce with some really tragic content.
S3: Yeah. And, you know, I mean, one thing that it also in alternating between these two things that really drives home again, another kind of Kubelik Baxter psychic connection, which is that, you know, when he’s at the bar, Baxter is so deep in his sorrow, he like scowls at a guy dressed as Santa who makes a stupid sled joke. But the woman is picking him up. She’s like trying to get his attention by blowing straws at him. But he is so intensely interested. And Fran, who is so intently interested in Mr. Sheldrake, that one of the sort of real sad things about this movie to me is that, you know, before it kind of all gets better, it’s about these two people who are intently focused on the wrong person, a person who’s not interested in them, a person who doesn’t want them. I mean, you know, I think that ultimately, Fran is a much better person than Mr. Sheldrake. So I think, you know, she has it the worst because Sheldrake is a distinct category of asshole and Fran is just a woman who’s in love with someone else. She’s really not like going out of her way to ruin Baxter’s life, but it still holds that it’s about two lonely people who cling to the idea of romantic possibility with a person who’s not available to them for whatever reason. And when these two storylines collide into each other and it becomes now the Resuscitating Fran segment of the film with the doctor and being slapped and having her stomach kind of pumped into the toilet. And yeah, I was wondering, by the way, silence.
S2: I was wondering how uncommon a vomiting scene, even offscreen vomiting, but making it clear that a woman is throwing up drugs into a toilet. You know, that just seemed like raw content for 1960.
S3: It’s pretty raw, right? I mean, certainly in the way that Wylder films at all and makes the scene happen, it’s sort of a drawn out thing. It’s the making her vomit. It’s the slapping her. It’s the smelling salts as the marching across the apartment. It’s a whole thing. And it’s farcical, as you said. But it’s also like deeply sad to me, like seeing her get slapped. I flinch. It’s a lot, but we go through all of that in order for her and Baxter to ultimately have this kind of playhouse segment of the movie as she’s being revived and he’s taking care of her.
S2: Yeah, and this is a wonderful little it’s a good way to think of it as this sort of housekeeping segment in the middle where she spends a couple days in his bathrobe. Right. And there’s a sense a little bit of them being out of time for this brief period. Right. They don’t have any relation to the workplace or the outside of the apartment. They play a game of gin rummy, which he teaches her to play, which, of course, will become important in the last scene of the movie once more. And he confides in her about his love life, including confessing that he once tried to kill himself over unrequited love, too, which is dark.
S3: But also, I mean, I think that she even laughs a little, too, because it’s I think the story is that he’s in love with a friend’s wife. And obviously that’s like a. So he pulls over somewhere to shoot himself, but the reason he winds up shooting himself in the knee is because a cop sort of knocks on the window and starts him. So it is like dark. But it’s also he is telling her the story to cheer her up. And it does bring this sort of lightness to the proceedings. And, you know, even he says, like, she sends me a fruitcake every Christmas and then he’s like, actually like, I’m going to make you dinner and then we can eat the fruitcake. But then it gets dark again because he reaches out to Sheldrake thinking person to person that if I were Sheldrake, I would want to know that whatever happened between myself and this woman made her want to kill herself. And you get that scene. This becomes Christmas Day where he takes the call. He’s like opening presents with his kids or whatever in this huge house, like very brightly lit, completely the opposite of the dingy. I’m going to say confiance here at to his apartment. But I just want to note that New York apartments, it’s just hard for me to feel too bad for him. It’s a lot of space. Five dollars.
S2: Oh, no. I love his apartment, but it’s just a dollhouse sized for a Hollywood apartment.
S3: Right. But there’s that call where he’s trying to get Sheldrake to care and he almost doesn’t understand how Sheldrake doesn’t seem to care, that he doesn’t want to come visit, but he doesn’t want to talk to her. But all these things that Sheldrake has no intention of actually being involved in the life of this woman and that also that Baxter sort of feminized, too, because when they later do talk, he Sheldrake refers to Baxter as like the nurse, whatever, repeating myself this whole time has just been the movie kind of makes Fran and Sissy parallel to each other in this way and the relationship to this man. But also just they’re sort of equally powerless. And I think it’s really a sign of Baxter’s character that, A, when the doctor comes over in the first place to help revive Fran, he still takes on the story of it being his fault that she tried to kill herself and be just his bemusement at the idea of Sheldrake not even wanting to talk to her clarifies how deep the asshole trench goes for Sheldrake, but also clarifies, I think, the sensitivity of Buddy Boy. It’s really I find it really moving the way that he kind of tries to soften the edges for her.
S2: And here Cam comes the bit of tennis racquet business that you were anticipating so much earlier in the movie. I mean, all I really have to say about this famous little scene, which is still incredibly durable to this day, like who wouldn’t want to move in with the guy who strains the spaghetti through a tennis racket is that this is one of the few pieces of improv in the whole movie. We were talking about how Billy Wilder didn’t like a script to be deviated from. In fact, I’ll demand his writing partner, who is, I think, more the executer sort of of the script. You know, Billy had the ideas and I’ll demand as a native English speaker kind of helped get them down on paper. But apparently I’ll Diament or is, as he was known, will sit around on set waiting for people to get anything in the line wrong and tell them you got to say it the way it’s written. But I know the pressure, but it’s what makes that language snap, you know, makes that movie move the way it does. But I was just going to mention that the little bit of vocalization that Jack Lemmon does, the wonderful little a kind of opera singing bit as he’s straining the spaghetti. And we can listen to that here.
S6: Music Where are we dressing for dinner? You know, just come as you are. So you’re pretty good with that racket. You should see my backhand.
S2: That was entirely his improvisation and something that he thought up on set. And I think that’s just a great example of how Billy Wilder found the right actors. You know, when people tried to ask Wilder, including Cameron Crowe in that book, I was mentioning about the production process of the apartment, he always had very little to say. I mean, in comparison, for example, to some like it hot, where he had stories about Marilyn Monroe and how annoying it was that she was late on set all the time. All he would say about the apartment is, oh, it was over. It worked. I got the right people. I trusted my actors. One thing he said that was great is that he only had five feet of wasted film. I mean, obviously, he was exaggerating to some degree, but I think he shot a very tight ratio with this movie because he was just getting everything he wanted on the first take.
S3: My only note about this spaghetti scene is that as much as I like that he uses the racket to strain the spaghetti, the home cook and me wish that he’d save some of that starchy pasta water because it would have made the sauce cling to the spaghetti. It would have been a little bit better, but that’s fine. And the name of comedy and improv and the beauty of the movie, I can let that slide. I just. Do you think that, you know, in the future of their relationship, if he does this again, I think that he should save a little bit of that starchy water. But yeah, otherwise perfect. The Jewish couple next door needs to give him a calendar for their wedding present and they’ll be totally also, you know, in terms of the strength of the writing, the sequence of the movie is also where some of the. Lines, I think, come and some of the really sad and revealing lines that you’re saying, I’m just the kind of guy who can’t say no with reference to Sheldrake and these favors that he keeps doing for people. And Kubelik saying, why can’t I ever fall for a nice guy like you, which is such a devastating thing to say to someone who’s clearly in love with you and like making you spaghetti with a tennis racket. But she doesn’t mean it sort of string herself along in that way. But obviously for him, it’s like, gee, I don’t know, like the other guy you like. I said, you’re hiding my razors and making sure you’re not jumping out of the window because he’s devastated you that much. So no, I don’t know the answer to the question of why you can’t fall for a guy like me. But of course, that’s sort of one of the tragic romantic things about the movie. Of course, things start to look up. Some other forces are in play. For one, Sheldrake suddenly becomes single right in a scene that we never see.
S2: Right. We don’t see the scene where he leaves her persay. But Children wife is informed by the treacherous secretary, Miss Olsen. The same one who tipped off Brad at the Christmas party is now telling Childre ex-wife everything about all of his affairs. She then leaves him and Sheldrake thinks that this is the way for him to get back with Fran again. This is what leads to the final confrontation between C.C. Baxter and Sheldrake.
S3: Yeah, I would say in missile defense, the reason she does this is because Sheldrake fires her on the spot for even telling Fran about the other women that he’s done this with. So that’s what she sort of sneaks away. And I also just want to point out, she has like a leopard print hat that matches her purse. Oh, yes.
S2: She looks so amazing in that one shot where she’s coming up with her plan. Right. There’s just a medium shot of her. Her outfit is just completely on point. And also the actors, his expression is just excellent, just excellent, isn’t it?
S3: But, yeah, I mean, what happens after that in the very fast start between Christmas and New Year’s, you know, because of the things that Baxter’s done for Sheldrake and, you know, the discretion obviously of it all. Baxter gets the real big promotion. His office is now right next to sell drinks. And here comes the moment that I feel like I even were watching a movie. Don’t anticipate because I think like Baxter, I’m thinking, great, he’s gotten to the top or as high as he’s going to get. He’s not going to become Sheldrake, but he’s gotten as close as he’s going to get. So it’s over. None of this apartment business he outranks. The other four guys have been using his apartment. But it’s the moment that Sheldrake, who is now with Fran because he’s been left by his wife, asks for the key again. But now, yeah, they have this big confrontation. Well, he doesn’t say no. He actually gives them a key to an executive suite or something. It’s the wrong key. It’s his way of quitting, right?
S2: Well, it’s more insulting than that. I think it’s the key to the executive bathroom. Right? I mean, there’s this exchange. This, again, goes to what I was saying earlier about the, you know, the objects that signify so beautifully in this movie, like The Cracked Mirror. We didn’t really take a moment to talk about it, but the way that story runs through those little exchanges of objects. Right. And that’s a really just storywise a very satisfying conclusion to this story. Right. That the entire time it’s been key that everybody wants. Right. The key that will give them this space to pursue their affairs in. And now suddenly there’s a key that he wants, which symbolizes simply that he’s, like you say, come up to the echelons of power and maybe he’s going to have some say over what happens. But the condition of getting that key becomes giving up his own key to his apartment again. And so that’s why I love that the gesture by which he quits is just simply to give him back the washroom key.
S3: Yeah, that’s a good closing gesture. It’s a good way to quit. And so I want to say, is Miss Olsen’s way of quitting where after she calls shots, why if she gives him a dime, that also brings up the giving of the hundred dollar bill.
S2: Right. I mean, if you’re going to do some sort of Marxist reading of this movie, a lot of it is about the circulation of value, right?
S3: Yeah, that’s what is it absolutely is. And, you know, this is also the point at which it feels like and I don’t mean this in a negative way, they feel like they’re all these endings, all these things that need to get resolved that make me realize how complicated the goings on of this movie are. Because, first of all, there’s an encounter between friend and buddy boy as his name is getting put on a higher level. I’m one of the signs at the bottom floor of the buildings and they have this nice exchange. And it seems like things have worked out for her. Things have worked out for him. You know, he pretends that he has a date with a random woman who’s in another corner of the building. But it turns out that what he means by that is he’s going home alone, whereas Fran and Mr. Sheldrake are on their way to the New Year’s Eve party. And this for me is one of the most moving moment. The way that Fran realizes the extent to which Buddy Boy has had her back, it’s in the way that she reveals to her that Baxter wasn’t going to give him the key this time, especially because he knew that it was Fran that he was bringing it back to the apartment again. Another good long shot just watching Shirley MacLaine. React, it’s like watching her not fall in love with Jack Lemmon, but just realizing the amount of love that is coming from his direction to her and his refusal to allow her to be mistreated in his apartment, at the very least, because, you know, I think something that wasn’t mentioned was that subject was left by his wife. But that’s not the way that he presents it to Fran. The way he presented to Fran is a fulfillment of a promise that he’s going to be the one to leave his wife. And that’s not what happened. I don’t know if Fran knows that he’s actually been left behind because he is a philanderer and a creep. But he, I think, lures Fran in by making it seem like he’s finally done it. I think this is a moment where you see the truth of that come out, but you also see her reaction to that. And then, yeah, do the classic rom com running, running, running on her way to Baxter’s apartment. It’s just really sweet.
S2: I don’t know. I mean, somebody would have to do a complete genealogy. This can’t be the first time that a romantic comedy has ended with somebody realizing and running. But I mean, it must be a very important chapter in that history. I mean, the first one that came to mind is when Harry Met Sally, which is even from a New Year’s Eve party. So, you know, no doubt a conscious quotation of the apartment. But, you know, Frances Ha! Woody Allen in Manhattan, everybody’s running at the end of a romantic comedy. And I think Billy Wilder got in on the ground floor on that.
S3: I mean, it’s Billy Wilder, right? So he doesn’t even let that lie. He has to tie up like every joke. And so even this running thing is briefly interrupted by her running up the stairs and thinking she hears a gunshot. And in fact, I think the sound effect is a gunshot. This is a check that’s being played on us. It is not something like a champagne bottle to me. But she thinks it’s the consummation of the joke he made about wanting to shoot himself over a woman he was in love with and thinking, oh, my God, he just shot himself. Of course, it was champagne. And I don’t know if this is this way for you, but I find it kind of suggestive the way that champagne bottle keeps overflowing. You know, it’s that it’s just a lot of champagne. It’s just it’s suggestive to me. And I do think this movie is ahead of its time with sex and putting it on screen. So I’m going to say that I think that that’s deliberate.
S2: Yeah, I mean, I’ll just say this. If that happened by accident, I’m sure it was another happy accident. That Bill, rather, was happy to leave it right there over foaming champagne cork. And so then, yes, again, in grand Roman style, we have this not a meet, cute, but to go out cute as the two of them pick up their card game again together. And if you remember before he was sort of trying to get her into the gin rummy game. Right. And she was talking about she fell asleep just talking about her love life. But there’s this nice reversal now where she’s the one who’s trying to get his mind back on the cards.
S3: It is nice. And, you know, I wish I knew how to play card games so that card involved. Things matter more to me. But is this a fun game? Like it doesn’t seem like it seemed like a good game of cards. I’m not like backtracking. Like emotionally. It does all resume.
S2: You’re asking the wrong person because we’ll get into that another time. But I can’t stand any game and I can never have the focus to complete any sort of rule-based competition whatsoever. Part of why I don’t do your crosswords ever. But I do think that cards are a great movie metaphor. I mean, to play a card game with someone is to have intimacy with them, to have a relationship with them. I mean, especially, I think in those days, the sort of early TV days when there was less to do with your evening. There’s something very domestic about them having this this ongoing card game together. And Billy Wilder is good at endings. You just had done some like it hot with the famous last line. Nobody’s perfect. And now he has Shirley MacLaine saying, shut up and deal, which is just such a wonderful multivalent. Right. I don’t know if the meaning of dealing with things is intended at all here, but as life advice showed up in deal is pretty great.
S3: Yeah, good ending. I mean, I don’t know why I forget about this being a holiday movie, I guess because generally when I think of as holiday movies don’t involve suicide attempts, but because that’s not what I would call a holiday spirit. But this is a great Christmas New Year’s movie. I mean, with the New Year’s part in particular, just like the beginning of a new chapter of their lives, which is very in other hands would feel to me. But I don’t know, I just walk away from the movie with a sense of possibility. And I’m sort of curious where Sheldrick is going that night because he can’t go back to his house. He can’t go to Baxter’s apartment. So I don’t know what’s up with him.
S4: Yeah, he’s off to go be in a noir movie with an even gloomier outlook on the world. Totally double indemnity, too. Yeah. Great ending. Great movie.
S2: Yeah. So good. Made me want to go on a Billy Wilder JAG. I’m sure I wouldn’t regret it if I did. I was going to maybe mention to listeners besides that Cameron Crowe book of interviews I talked about earlier, which is called Conversations with Wilder. I also discovered this great thing on YouTube. There is a three part three hour long sort of documentary interview series that the German director, Volker Lonsdorf, did with Billy Wilder in 1988 when Billy Wilder was still alive, still at. Still going to his office every day to read scripts, but not really making any movies anymore and is just such a lively conversationalist, Billy Wilder was well known as kind of great company, you know, among all the people that he worked with. He was apparently just a really good storyteller and fun to spend time with. And you really see that in these interactions with Jill Orndorff. And it’s just them talking about cinema and about, you know, their lives and their histories and about Germany. They speak in German a lot of the time, sometimes in English. But it’s fascinating. I haven’t made it all the way through yet. But if you go to YouTube and look for Billy, how did you do it? That’s the title of this three part series, Billy, How Do You Do It? By Volker Lindorff. Go and check that out if you want to. I’m absolutely going to. All right. Well, I’m normally this would be the place where I would ask you or in this case you would ask me what the choice would be for the movie, for the next episode.
S7: This is the fiftieth episode, as we mentioned last time, a flashback. What we didn’t know when we recorded that episode and talked about what we would do to celebrate. Our fiftieth is that this would also be the last flashback. This was Slate’s first experiment with an All Up World podcast, in other words, one that isn’t part of a podcast that exists also outside the paywall, but is one that you have to join Slate plus to listen to. It was a successful experiment. We got a lot of people on board and built a nice fandom and were very happy to have all of you as listeners. But I think Slate wants to use that part of their bandwidth to explore other podcast ideas. I’m sure this is hard for some listeners who have been with us since the beginning to hear, and it was very hard for us to hear. I’m personally still adjusting to it because I love doing the show with you and I’m really going to miss it.
S2: But I want listeners to know that we read all your suggestions for future shows. We had a lot of them bookmarked to do, and we have a lot of ideas in our head for movies we’d still love to talk about. So if you happen to be on Twitter and you follow me at the high sign on Twitter, that’s Saige. And I think I’m going to post a little thread from Kamini, both of maybe 10 titles each that we would have done in the show if we could have kept going.
S3: Yeah, I had so many films in mind. So on the one hand, sad that this is the end of this project. But on the other hand, just to reiterate something you said, I think it’s been really great to rather something that I didn’t expect when we started this was that people would be as interested as they are and to feel like we were on the same wavelength with people when they were making their suggestions. But yeah, I mean, my head is full of it. I was going to do Eve’s Bayou. I was going to do all kinds of stuff. But I also feel like it’s not as if movies have died just because this podcast has died. And, you know, in our capacity as critics and elsewhere, I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we both really love talking about older films with people. And I’ve loved, you know, being exposed to films that I haven’t heard of or hadn’t seen from your choices. And I’ve loved the emails that we’ve gotten every week with great suggestions and again, just choices that affirm that. I think we found an audience who really seemed to get what we were doing, which is just, you know, getting together and chatting about movies in a way that as writers, as critics of these things, we don’t always have a long enough leash to do because there’s no, quote unquote reason to talk about the apartment right now. We just wanted to and I feel like that’s how we approach most of these. And I’m going to really miss it, particularly during a pandemic. I have to say, it’s been really nice to have this look forward to. And I feel like I’m not watching these things in a vacuum, which is really largely I mean, I think when we first started talking about like a shared love of just watching older films, it was because of a movie club a couple of years ago where I talked about how I use the holiday breaks to catch up on all the blue rays and streaming things that I’ve been putting off and not having time to get to. And yeah, it’s been nice to have something built into my life that not only helps me watch those things, but also gave me something to talk to about them because, yeah, I watch a lot of movies and I don’t talk to people, you know. C.C. Baxter, citing statistics at the start of the apartment is how it can feel sometimes. So it’s just been really great to feel engaged both with you and with our audience. And I’m going to miss it.
S2: Oh, I feel the same. And now you’re making me realize that we never talked about the Yossef on Sternbergh. Marlena Dietrich, I know is a collaboration that was the basis for that whole movie club conversation. That’s what you were geeking out on that winter. Right.
S3: And I never made it all the way through that set. All right.
S7: We’ll find a place and rest assured listeners, if Cam and I find a place to talk about von Sternberg and Dietrich, we’ll be sure to send you there. I was also going to say in relation to that, that if this show means something to you and you will miss it, we would love to hear from you either by email or on Twitter. Our email address is Flashback Telecom. And again, you can find me as the high sign on Twitter camp wisely does not waste his time there, but I am still to be found there sometime. Unfortunately, but we would love to hear, you know, what this show it to you, what movie you would have liked us to talk about, maybe a movie you discovered because of us, any kind of feedback you have for flashback? We would love to know.
S3: Yet one category, people that I have really loved has been, you know, people telling us about their personal connections to some of these films. Some of you have said really great stories to us about the first time you saw something.
S2: Well, the guy whose dad was the dentist in Cassavetes husbands, I think has to be one of my favorites.
S3: Amazing. Yeah, we’ve we really enjoyed doing this and feeling engaged with you all, and it’ll be hard to say goodbye to you. But I was thinking about it. And it’s like we started with films like Probabilities Wanda and we did Gaslight was our very first movie. I guess that was our very first movie. You know, we did the U.S. film Silence of the Lambs and Lawrence of Arabia, and we did films from near and far and black silent era film and, you know, all kinds of stuff. So I think that that doesn’t have to end, obviously. We love hearing about people exploring these things. And please do be in touch and reach out about movies, even if it’s things you are hated, like one from the heart, the Francis Coppola film that I chose early on that I got yelled at for. But I defend that choice still to this day.
S2: I mean, it’s sort of like you like all your children equally. No movie we’ve done, even the ones that may not have been my favorites will ever be anything but dear to me now, because when you dig into a movie at that level, everything has something that you had never seen before.
S3: Totally. And we, of course, also have to thank our wonderful producer, Chow, who, in addition to putting up with our rambling and our decisiveness about scheduling, apparently makes us sound great. I really can’t listen to myself. But all the things you guys say about how great the podcast is, it’s like at least 50. I would say more percent shows surgical precision with the editing.
S2: Yeah, she could blackmail us with the outtakes, get us fired immediately for our extreme stupidity.
S3: For the number of times we’re like, I got to pick up that Wikipedia tab again, the number of names we forget, etc.. Yeah. So we also try a lot. She has the tapes, the Nixon tapes of this podcast, and we will always be in debt to her for not letting those air.
S2: All right. Well, I am not Billy Wilder, nor am I Al Diamond. So I can’t think of the perfect last line to say I just am sorry it’s ending. And I hope people will go back and listen to the archive and send their friends to the archive and keep up with me and Cam and whatever we do next, hopefully maybe something together. So thank you again to all of you who subscribe to Slate, plus whether it was for the show specifically or you were already subscribed however you found us, we are just so grateful for your listenership every two weeks. And again, that’s flashback. It’s late dotcom, if you want to email us and if you want to find me on Twitter, I’m at the high side. Yeah. Thank you, everyone.