This article is part of our Classic Film Throwback series
– By Sam Hendrian –
“Some people take, some people get took. And they know they’re getting took and there’s nothing they can do about it.” These piercing words said by Fran Kubelik to C.C. “Bud” Baxter in 1960’s The Apartment summarize the film’s rather bleak outlook on the modern business world, but they also convey its inspiring exhortation to love, not use, one another. Directed by Billy Wilder and winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, it offers movingly truthful insights on what it takes for a virtuous romance to blossom.
When the film opens, Bud is a good-hearted but sycophantic businessman working his way up in a large New York City company by lending his apartment to executives with extramarital lovers. He knows deep down that this is not the most moral thing to do, but he is lonely and does not have much to look forward to other than a good paycheck, so he ignores any qualms of conscience and continues to do it.
Bud is quite smitten with Fran Kubelik, an elevator operator at the building where he works. While Fran thinks Bud is a nice guy, she does not seem too interested in him and ultimately stands him up after he asks her on a date to see The Music Man. He soon learns that the married head of the company, Mr. Sheldrake, is having an affair with Fran. When he sees how emotionally-damaging this affair has been for her, Bud starts to realize that aiding his bosses in their adulterous pursuits has some seriously negative consequences.
Late on Christmas Eve, Bud enters his apartment to find Fran lying on his bed after overdosing on sleeping pills. She had come there earlier with Mr. Sheldrake, but she was severely hurt by his insincerity and became overwhelmed by a suicidal urge after he left. Terrified, Bud immediately calls upon Dr. Dreyfuss, a wise and feisty medic who lives in the room next door, and they are able to save her before it is too late.
While Fran is thankfully alive after her potentially-deadly overdose, she will still need some time to rest and recover, so Bud lets her stay in his apartment and does his best to take care of her. As they play gin rummy and gradually grow more comfortable with each other, Fran opens up to Bud about her tendencies towards depression and her knack for falling in love with the wrong sort of men. “Why can’t I ever fall in love with someone nice like you?” she ponders sadly. Bud matter-of-factly replies, “Well, that’s the way it crumbles. Cookie-wise.”
Bud has always been attracted to Fran, but he begins to care for her on a deeper level as she bares her soul and expresses a restless longing for genuine love. He himself is terribly lonely and also longs to be in a sincerely loving relationship. We have watched him sit outside in the cold while he waits for one of his bosses to finish up a tryst in his own apartment, trying to ignore the qualms that are bubbling in his conscience. Now that he has come to know a woman on a raw, truly human level, he is captivated by the beautiful traits of virtuous romance and realizes that he must stop aiding men in their adulterous pursuits.
While Fran starts to show signs of reciprocating Bud’s love for her, she still returns to Mr. Sheldrake after fully recovering, which greatly saddens Bud. Fearing for Fran’s emotional health and vowing to never again be an adultery-enabling sycophant, Bud heroically denies Mr. Sheldrake any further access to his apartment and quits his job, refusing to work any longer for such morally bankrupt men. Hopeful of perhaps finding a woman in another town whom he can love and be loved by, he decides to pack up his belongings and start over someplace else.
Meanwhile, Fran goes out to dinner on New Year’s Eve with Mr. Sheldrake, who is now in the process of getting a divorce from his wife. She knows that this relationship is terribly unhealthy and damaging, but she feels so lost that she just cannot summon the courage to end it. However, when Mr. Sheldrake informs her that they can no longer easily retire to an apartment after dinner because Bud refused to give him the key, she suddenly smiles and realizes that her lifelong dream of genuine love is only a few blocks away.
Literally running out on Mr. Sheldrake, Fran races to Bud’s apartment and asks if she can come in. Ecstatic to see her, Bud invites her to sit down and make herself comfortable. Wishing to finish the game of gin rummy that they started while she was recovering on Christmas, Fran grabs a deck of cards before sitting down. After inquiring about the state of her relationship with Mr. Sheldrake, Bud finally musters up the nerve to say, “I love you, Miss Kubelik.” Fran does not immediately respond, so he continues, “Did you hear what I said, Miss Kubelik? I absolutely adore you.” She then hands him the deck of cards with a beaming smile on her face and says, “Shut up and deal.”
While it may have gained a reputation over the years as an edgy romantic comedy about adultery from the end of the Production Code era, The Apartment is really an honorable film with a message that echoes Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. When romance is detached from faithful commitment and an earnest respect for both the body and soul, it is ultimately destructive. Fran learns this truth the hard way, and Bud witnesses the horrible effects of it.
On the other hand, when romance is rooted in loyalty and self-sacrifice, it blossoms into something beautiful and transcendent. After looking into each other’s lost souls on Christmas Day through the simple act of listening, Fran and Bud feel a subtle stirring to be devoted companions for the rest of their lives. While the film does not end with their marriage, we can safely guess that their budding relationship will lead there soon. Whether or not we are pursuing romance in our lives, we can all share Fran and Bud’s joy in discovering the endless possibilities of self-giving love.
About the Author
Sam Hendrian is a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University (Class of 2019) pursuing a double emphasis in Screenwriting and Directing.
For more articles by Sam, click here.