The Apartment’s C.C. Baxter (jazzy Jack Lemmon at it hammer and tongs, sneezing and fizzing, quick as a weasel--and acting like one, too, for a while that goes on almost too long) narrates for us, laying on numbers and data, UNIVAC with a problem: He’s a stooge for his bosses, letting them use his apartment to ruin women and his life. And all those facts and figures will not protect this insurance man from lasting liability.
Billy Wilder wrestles comedy to the ground and force-feeds it bitter defeat. Lemmon’s hyperbolic performance swoops down like Edison’s old rescuing eagle and plucks Shirley MacLaine’s suicidal Miss Kubelik from one frying-pan into another--with the fire waiting for this upwardly mobile couple to take the inevitable plunge--in more ways than one: They fall all the way down, plus fall in love.
And this love seems to save both of them--although the cost lingers. Still, Lemmon and MacLaine give us a glimmer of hope for the urban middle class, the thin plain suit and tasteful little outfit rumpled enough to mark them as not only survivors but maybe subvert-ers. The past decade has given us Americans--well, a pretty good share of us--more than we need--and convinced us we’ve earned it. The Apartment is made anxious by all this happy talk--while the world grows larger than any cozy flat or happy suburban home can manage. It’s waiting--actually, it’s not; it’s right here: the Negro Movement rises in flames from a Baptist church while the Iron Curtain flutters, a bit of a tease from Khrushchev, watching American underpants in Can-Can. And it all can’t fit in the same space without something giving way.
So, despite their final escape into each other, Lemmon is right to be nervous, and MacLaine might be on to something as she considers a cracked mirror and comments that she likes it because it makes her look the way she feels.