***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** Anyone that knows about comedy knows about "Some Like It Hot", and anyone that know about "Some Like It Hot" knows about Billy Wilder. This was his next film, and the reason I mention that is that this is a serious and melancholy drama with the form and rhythm of comedy. But it's not a funny movie, and part of the genius of the writing and direction is that Lemmon's character especially only figures this out in the third act.
Jack Lemmon plays C.C. Baxter, an unmarried drone amongst drones in a huge insurance company, possessing of two important things: a bachelor's apartment near Central Park (check out his rent!!), and an amoral willingness to allow company higher-ups to use his place for after-hours trysts with their girlfriends and pickups they meet in bars. To C.C., the problems associated with operating a safe-house for affairs are merely logistical, not moral; in one scene, he is seen rearranging his and everyone's schedule to accomodate Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) a real bigwig, with the expertise and interest of an air traffic controller.His hope is to promote himself within the company by pleasing his superiors, and for awhile that seems to be working. It turns out, however, that Sheldrake's current flame is Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), who C.C. has quite the crush on; in fact, she stands him up on their first date to meet Sheldrake at their favorite Chinese restaurant, where Sheldrake asks her to resume their affair, intimating that he will leave his wife for her (a lie that no-one except her even pretends to believe).
Without going into too many details, the joy of and intelligence this is how well this triangle works itself out slowly and with some pain by all concerned. Although C.C. really likes Fran, she won't give him the time of day, first because she's already bruised and involved with Sheldrake, and, later, because she sees his flaws better than he does (and, possibly, we do). At one point they agree that it's too bad that she doesn't fall for a guy like him, but the exchange is given additional bittersweetness not only by her inability to fall for a "nice guy" but her awareness that, as he is at that point, he's not really such a nice guy. One of the beauties of this script is that it takes awhile for us to notice that C.C. is just as bad as Sheldrake is; he's totally okay with the infidelities he is assisting in as long as he gets his promotion out of it, and it isn't his business whether anyone (wives or girlfriends) gets hurt in the process. Even the resounding disapproval from his next door neighbors (who just think he's a very busy playboy from what they can hear night after night coming through the walls) doesn't get him to think. Yet Lemmon plays the role with total innocence; he thinks he's in a comedy and it takes a real life-threatening problem halfway through to get him to start considering the error of his ways. Even then, he's still just trying to work the situation, without taking any stand himself. (There are only about two actors I know of that could pull this role off: Jack Lemmon and Tom Hanks, both of whom have such audience appeal that they can be this spineless without the audience despising them.) Interestingly, for all her personality, intelligence and self-awareness, Fran isn't much better; she's no stranger to the hazards of having affairs with married men, yet has little qualms about resuming her affair with Sheldrake. Both C.C. and Fran really are willing to sacrifice their integrity for something they hope to get from Sheldrake - him, the high-floor, corner window office, her, the gold wedding ring.
I've stressed that this is a drama in comedy form to emphasize that this screen play is one of the most intelligently written I have ever seen; it takes a non-story (or at least, obviously bedroom-farcical material) and inhabits it with character interaction and development of the most subtle and human kind. You expect lots of bedroom-closet-under-the couch people shuffling (like in The Pink Panther of three years later) and general hilarity, perhaps ending up with someone partially disrobed and dangling from a window; instead you find out that each of these characters has a little history of his own. I rented this the other night, thinking that it would indeed be a comedy, and about halfway through found myself thinking "This is REALLY good!". I've been renting lots of pre-1975 movies (The Sting, Spartacus, this one) in an unprecedented attack of escapist nostalgia, and have been rewarded with jewels like this. Winner of 5 Oscars including Best Picture, this is one of the best pictures I've seen this or any year. It's a cliche to say that Hollywood doesn't make movies like this anymore, yet the nearest thing to this is My Best Friend's Wedding?
(A couple of notes I really liked: Ray Walston's character is perfectly cast and played, as usual; the whole picture is a cynical Valentine to New York and the 50's at the same time; and anyone who saw this at the time could see that Shirley MacLaine was gonna be a big star).
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