This may be the best all-around film on our Christmas watch list: the direction, the acting, the screenplay, the cinematography, and the decor combine to make it one of the best pictures ever made in America. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Film Editing. Both Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine were nominated for best acting, and Joseph LaShelle was nominated for best cinematography.
C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is one of hundreds of clerks at a mammoth Manhattan insurance company, who seeks to speed his rise in the corporate world by letting executives use his apartment for adulterous liaisons. The shy Baxer seems smitten with an elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), who has fallen in love with Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), the married head of human resources. Promoted because of his apartment lending, Baxter starts lending his key to Sheldrake. On Christmas Eve, Baxter accidentally learns that Miss Kubelik is the woman with whom Sheldrake has been having the affair. She attempts suicide and is discovered by Baxter, who nurses her back to health and begins to fall in love with her. Thinking that he has convinced Kubelik to break off the relationship with Sheldrake, Baxter is devastated to learn that Sheldrake’s wife has learned of the affair and kicked him out, and Kubelik returns to him, but when she learns that Baxter has quit the company rather than have her and Sheldrake back in his apartment, she runs to Baxter and her newly realized love.
NEW YORK CONNECTION
All of the action takes place in Manhattan, with numerous scenes on the street outside of Baxter’s apartment, in front of the Majestic Theatre on West 44th Street, and in the large office building. Next to When Harry Met Sally, no film on our list has a firmer New York atmosphere.
A raucous Christmas office party, a sad bar scene on Christmas Eve night (echoes of In Name Only), and a pitiful Christmas tree in Baxter’s apartment (into which he falls when punched by Fran Kubelik’s brother-in-law — echoes of Never Say Goodbye) combine to put the central action in the middle of the holidays. The film ends on New Year’s Eve.
Ray Walston (Joe Dobisch) is best known as the star of TV’s My Favorite Martian from the early 1960s. Edie Adams (Miss Olsen) was the wife of TV comedy pioneer Ernie Kovaks. Jack Kruschen (Dr. Dreyfus) had a long career in television.
I haven’t been able to identify any Astaire connections, other than the fact that Fred performed at a Press Club Frolic in April 1933 at the Majestic Theatre (where Baxter hopes to meet Miss Kubelik) at 245 W. 44th St.
WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE
This time around we discovered several things. Cinematographer Joseph LaShelle’s credits include Laura, Marty, and Irma La Douce, as well as another film that sometimes appears on our Christmas watchlist, Come to the Stable. Screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond, who became best known for his collaborations with Billy Wilder (including Some Like It Hot), early in his career wrote the script for Never Say Goodbye, one of our Christmas screwball favorites. And of course, it is always interesting to see Fred MacMurray play such an evil role after his thoroughly sympathetic role in Remember the Night.