Script of the Week: The Apartment

Like every other desk, it has a small name plate attached to
the side.  This one reads C.C. BAXTER.

                         BUD (V.O.)
            My name is C.C. Baxter - C. for
            Calvin, C. for Clifford -- however,
            most people call me Bud. I've been
            with Consolidated Life for three
            years and ten months.  I started in
            the branch office in Cincinnati,
            then transferred to New York.  My
            take-home pay is $94.70 a week, and
            there are the usual fringe benefits.

BAXTER is about thirty, serious, hard-working, unobtrusive.
He wears a Brooks Brothers type suit, which he bought
somewhere on Seventh Avenue, upstairs.  There is a stack of
perforated premium cards in front of him, and he is totaling
them on the computing machine.

Billy Wilder was so impressed with Jack Lemmon while working on Some Like It Hot, he knew he wanted to work with him again. He describes how he came up with an idea for The Apartment:

“So I looked in my little black book and I came across a note about David Lean’s movie Brief Encounter, that story about a married woman who lives in the country, comes to London, and meets a man. They have an affair in his friend’s apartment. What I had written was, What about the friend who has to crawl back into that warm bed?

I had made that note ten years earlier, I couldn’t touch it because of censorship, but suddenly there it was – The Apartment – all suggested by this note and by the qualities of an actor with whom I wanted to make the next picture. It was ideal for Lemmon, the combination of sweet and sour. I like it when someone called that picture a dirty fairy tale.”

– Billy Wilder for The Paris Review Interviews

The script stands out for its depiction of the main character. C.C. Baxter or Bud is an insurance salesman. He’s lonely despite working in a large insurance company. The film starts with his introduction of himself, and notice how detailed he is – facts and figures are very important for someone working in insurance, and even though Bud is not talking about work here but about himself, the language he uses is characteristic of an insurance salesman. Notice also how his introduction goes from larger to smaller (from crowds to individual): it starts with the population of New York, the size of the company, his department and then, finally, himself. Bud wants to climb the corporate ladder which makes sense after seeing from his vocabulary and attention to detail how into his work he is. In order to climb the ladder he lets four managers use his apartment for dates, and complications develop has Baxter is constantly locked out of his apartment while trying to catch the eye of a woman at work himself.

The Apartment was written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. Wilder started out in Hollywood as a screenwriter and grew increasingly exasperated by the misinterpretation of his work by lesser filmmakers, and decided to become a director himself. He (co)wrote most of his films.

Billy Wilder on screenwriting:

“Pictures are something like plays. They share an architecture and a spirit. A good picture writer is a kind of poet, but a poet who plans his structure like a craftsman and is able to tell what’s wrong with the third act. What a veteran screenwriter produces might not be good, but it would be technically correct; if he has a problem in the third act he certainly knows to look for the seed of the problem in the first act.”

Read the script of The Apartment here.



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