Thursday, March 06, 2008
Bad day at the office?
Thank your luckies you’re not CC Baxter, Jack Lemmon’s resentfully downtrodden clerk in an NYC corporation, who has become so cowed by the predations of his boss and the insecurity of his position he allows his superiors use of his flat to have it off with their mistresses. He’s 9 to 5 – they’re cinq-a-sept. Baxter’s immediate overlord, Sheldrake, is a nauseatingly complacent rat played to oleaginous perfection by Fred MacMurray whose attempts to ingratiate himself with Lemmon’s character amount to no more than using the insulting and hated nickname ‘Buddy Boy’ to a man he is doubly exploiting.
Wilder’s offices are striplit hives of paper-pushing drones, reminiscent of King Vidor’s wage-slaves in The City (1927), as regimented as a galley’s navvies. There is a curious, anodyne beauty about the interiors as much as there is of a New York of brownstones and rain, as later essayed by Woody Allen in the likes of Manhattan (1979).
The script – by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond – concentrates on the claustrophobia of interiors and how two people in a room can be continents apart. Not that Baxter wants to be anything but as close as possible to Shirley MacLaine’s lift attendant Fran Kubelik; MacLaine, her unfeasible legs aside, plays Fran as a plain, mousy, downtrodden wench, whose only common ground with Baxter is hatred – of her job, of her corporation, of her life. MacMurray spurns her, she attempts suicide chez Baxter, and the halting, touching empathy – not love – that grows between them is one of cinema’s most affecting romances, culminating in MacLaine’s madcap dash to be with a desolate, broken Lemmon. In this inky-black comedy of cynicism and hopelessness, of alienation and quiet desperation, the glow of human warmth finds a way through, as feeble as an usherette’s torch in a cinema’s gloom – but it’s there. Wilder rarely surpassed this miracle of a film, and few pictures have ever deserved their Best Picture Oscar more.
This is comedy as weepie, and the more the years pass the faster the tears come…