It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
There is a melancholy gulf over the holidays between those who have someplace to go, and those who do not. “The Apartment” is so affecting partly because of that buried reason: It takes place on the shortest days of the year, when dusk falls swiftly and the streets are cold, when after the office party some people go home to their families and others go home to apartments where they haven't even bothered to put up a tree. On Christmas Eve, more than any other night of the year, the lonely person feels robbed of something that was there in childhood and isn't there anymore.
Jack Lemmon plays C.C. Baxter, a definitive lonely guy, in “The Apartment,” with the ironic twist that he is not even free to go home alone, because his apartment is usually loaned out to one of the executives at his company. He has become the landlord for a series of their illicit affairs; they string him along with hints about raises and promotions. His neighbor Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) hears the nightly sounds of passion through the wall and thinks Baxter is a tireless lover, when in fact Baxter is pacing the sidewalk out in front, looking up resentfully at his own lighted window.
When Billy Wilder made “The Apartment” in 1960, “the organization man” was still a current term. One of the opening shots in the movie shows Baxter as one of a vast horde of wage slaves, working in a room where the desks line up in parallel rows almost to the vanishing point. This shot is quoted from King Vidor's silent film “The Crowd” (1928), which is also about a faceless employee in a heartless corporation. Cubicles would have come as revolutionary progress in this world.
Baxter has no girlfriend and, apparently, no family. Patted on the back and called “buddy boy” by the executives who use him, he dreams of a better job and an office of his own. One day he even gets up his nerve and asks out one of the elevator girls, Miss Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), but she stands him up at the last moment because of a crisis in her relationship with the big boss, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). She thought her affair with Sheldrake was over, but now apparently it's on again; he keeps talking about divorcing his wife, but never does.