I love old black and white movies; I suppose it’s because I have always felt I was born years too late. I would have been more comfortable in the 1940’s or 50’s when it was acceptable for women to stay home and cook, and clean, and they didn’t have to make excuses for not wanting to compete with me. I think having dinner at 9:00 PM and wearing dresses and heals is glamorous, and I just recently stopped cringing when I saw others wearing white after Labor Day.
One of my favorite movies is “The Apartment” with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine; it was touted as a comedy, but the premise is actually quite sad and dark, probably why I like it. The plot is quite simple, C.C. Baxter, played by Jack Lemmon, is a tiny fish in the big sea of workers in a huge office who wishes to be promoted. He soon discovers an interesting way to get ahead, they key to his apartment.
The top-level executives at his firm take turns using the key to his place to have illicit dalliances with their secretaries or other women they meet. The nearby place is a perfect hideaway for the married men to whisk away their lovers for an evening of romance.
While the movie may seem as if it has the makings of a typical rom-com, there is a dark side; Baxter’s boss brings a girl there one night and when he leaves, she attempts suicide. Upon his arrival home, Baxter finds Fran Kubelik, played by Shirley MacLaine, a woman he has a crush on from the elevator, passed out in his bed from a sleeping pill overdose.
Baxter saves Ms. Kubelik’s life, and the two spend Christmas Eve together as she recuperates from the trauma. As he stays awake with her, they play cards, talk, and fall in love. However, she is not over the man with whom she had her original fling, and by New Year’s Eve, he has left his wife after telling her of his infidelities, there have been many.
By this time, Baxter has quit his job, is moving from his apartment and is ready to leave the city, when Ms. Kubelik realizes it is him that she loves and she runs to his apartment to tell him. Of course, the movie ends on a happy note.
Still, the most poignant moment for me is the night of a Christmas party in the office when Baxter is in his office with Ms. Kubelik; he realizes then she is the one his boss has been bringing to his apartment. She had left a compact in his apartment once; he had seen it but had returned it to his boss.
On this night, she dropped it, he picks it up to hand it to her, looking at the glass and noticing the crack down the middle, he recognizes it and gets a quizzical but knowing look on his face. Ms. Baxter mistakes the look when he says to her, “The mirror… it’s broken.”
She straightens herself, “Yes, I know. I like it that way. Makes me look the way I feel.”
For years, I carried a broken compact in my purse; I have no idea how it broke. It was just a cheap, Cover Girl compact that came with some makeup; I could afford to replace it, but didn’t. Every time I looked in that mirror and had to look beyond the cracks, I would think of her, and the line she said, “It makes me look the way I feel”. I know I am cracked.