Meet Calvin Clifford Baxter, called fondly as “Bud”. He is employed with a large national insurance company in New York City. He works on the 19th floor of a high-rise building, for the Ordinary Policy Department, Premium Accounting Division, Section W, Desk No 861. He has been with the company for three years & ten months and his take-home salary is $94.70 a week. That is how we are introduced to the character Bud in the opening scene of 1960’s The Apartment. A bachelor with a dull job, living alone in his cozy but not-fancy apartment, Bud hardly seems to be the kind of person worthy of being the protagonist of a Hollywood movie. But after a brief monologue, a dark secret of Bud’s life is revealed – and from thereon Bud becomes a far more interesting character than what his first appearance suggested.
Bud’s secret has to do with the title of the movie. A controversial theme to depict in that era, the movie’s premise revolves around Bud’s rented apartment which he occasionally gives to his office seniors for their extramarital liaisons. Not exactly judgmental of the actions of his seniors, Bud finds it difficult to refuse them and also hopes to get a quicker promotion by helping them out. The promotion does arrive when the personnel director, Jeff D. Sheldrake, himself starts to use the apartment. Not that Bud minds! But there is a twist in the tale when Bud’s own heart falls for Fran Kubelik, an elevator operator in his building, who turns out to be the one Mr Sheldrake is having an affair with. With his career ambitions weighing against his growing fondness for Fran, Bud’s dilemma is at the heart of The Apartment.
There is so much about Bud that makes him a pleasant likable person whom you would want to meet over on a Saturday night, provided that you enjoy a peaceful game of gin rummy along with some champagne. While he looks like a simpleton in the beginning, Bud is anything but that. His ‘charitable’ offering of his apartment is driven by his desire to rise up the ranks in a very crowded company, and shrewdly he achieves this end-result. But he can be forgiven for this approach, for there are more unscrupulous means adopted in this world to win promotions. You really feel for him when he approaches Fran to ask her out, and only a cold-hearted person would not want to see them together. Bud has his own sense of humour that adds to his affable personality, and his chivalrous nature makes him all the more a gentleman. But then these would be the characteristics we would have seen across so many heroes of rom-com flicks. So what makes Bud worth remembering? Jack Lemmon.
Actor Jack Lemmon was coming on the back of the hugely successful Some Like It Hot for which he had bagged him an Oscar nomination. Director Billy Wilder and writer I.A.L. Diamond who had worked on Some Like It Hot decided to collaborate again with Jack Lemmon in their new romantic-comedy venture, The Apartment. With Jack Lemmon what they got was not only a brilliant actor who would be totally committed to the role, but also someone who had the look to play a simple but lovable fellow. Lemmon makes Bud more than a typical ‘good’ guy. He creates an enthusiasm about him when he’s talking with his seniors about the promotion; he makes you feel the exasperation when he is locked out of his own apartment in the cold winter; he oozes sincerity when he approaches Fran. Without being a romantic in the purest sense of the term, his endeavors to impress Fran are heart-warming. There is a spark about him that is difficult to describe but makes Bud such a memorable character. And his chemistry with Shirley MacLaine that starts in a tepid manner grows gradually and fills up his apartment by the time she utters those now memorable words – “Shut up and deal.”
The Apartment was nominated for as many as ten Oscar nominations and won five of them, most notably for Best Picture and Best Director. Jack Lemmon though lost out in the Best Actor category to Burt Lancester for Elmer Gantry. Jack Lemmon did however win a Golden Globe in the category of ‘Best Actor – Comedy or Musical’ and also a BAFTA for ‘Best Foreign Actor’. The Apartment was a commercial success as well earning close to $25 million at the box-office against its production budget of $3 million. It remains to date one of those kind of black & white movies that do not need to be re-touched with colour, because it already feels colourful – bright, sparkly, fun – in the company of our memorable Bud.