It’s pretty fitting that after writing about Mad Men last week, I saw The Apartment for the first time yesterday. There’s at least one episode of the show that really directly, repeatedly references the 1960 film, but on a more general level, the show owes its entire existence to the film, 1960′s Oscar winner for Best Picture (among others).
The Apartment takes place in a large New York City office (here, an insurance company) at about the same time in which the early Mad Men seasons were set and features very similar fashions and sets, and has as its central themes the adulterous, seedy private lives of the company’s executives and the ways in which they’re able to take advantage of their position over lower-ranking men and (especially) women. It’s generally termed a comedy, and it’s extremely funny, but certainly a darker, meaner, more critical one than you’d expect to see coming out of 1960.
Anyway, it’s a phenomenal film. If you haven’t seen it, do it as soon as you possibly can, especially (but not exclusively) if you’re a Mad Men fan. There are some spoilers below, but not the type that are going to interfere with your enjoyment of this great movie.
So with the obvious similarities and all, it just makes too much sense for me to do a The Apartment-themed metaphors post this week. Here’s how its three main characters are like the way teams have behaved this offseason:
The Angels are Jeff Sheldrake.
Sheldrake, played by Fred MacMurray (typically the kindly father type, who you may remember from My Three Sons or The Absent-Minded Professor, quite different and a lot darker here) is the insurance company’s director of personnel, with a big office on the top floor, a personal secretary, access to the executive washroom, all the perks. Like most of the bigwigs in Mad Men, Sheldrake has it all — the money and presige, a family in a big house out (evidently) in the suburbs, and a steady stream of mostly naive younger women he takes as girlfriends in the city, feeding them a story about how he doesn’t get along with his wife anymore and is going to divorce her for them, all that. He’s a bully, basically, manipulating the two other mostly-helpless main characters discussed below and taking for himself whatever he wants.
That’s typically the Yankees, but this season, it’s a power on the other coast. The Angels have been the ones to throw their weight around and just take whatever they wanted this offseason. They traded a young pitcher with a 1:1 K/BB rate for a catcher who is a huge improvement over what they had and might come close to replacing their loss for foolishly giving away Mike Napoli last year. They signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, and LaTroy Hawkins, and Jorge Cantu. Where the Angels have identified a problem, they’ve thrown their power and considerable money at it, and thereby made it go away (or appear to, for now). That’s pretty much what Sheldrake does, absent the serial cheating and concomitant moral judgment. The Angels have been the big bullies of MLB this year, not unlike the head of personnel for a late fifties/early sixties insurance firm.
The Marlins are Fran Kubelik.
Fran is the female lead of The Apartment, played by Shirley MacLaine. She’s a bit insecure, desperate, maybe unstable. She’s in love with a married man (Sheldrake), and remains in love after she’s been made aware that she’s just one in a long line of his short-lived flings. She might be suicidal, and she spends much of the movie kind of helpless (but in a badly-broken-person sort of way, not the more typical for the time dingy-girl-who-needs-a-man way). So she’s kind of a loose cannon, but she’s also a character you can’t take your eyes off of. She’s lovely and intelligent and interesting and funny. There’s a lot of other stuff going on in the movie, but the most interesting thing to follow is trying to figure out what Fran is going to do at any given time.
This year’s Marlins are setting up to be a lot like that. It’s not clear whether they’re going to be good, per se, but they’ll sure as hell make for great TV and copy. It’s a team that was desperate to make a splash, reaching a bit for Heath Bell, landing Buehrle and Reyes, and making a serious push for Albert Pujols (and maybe now Yoennis Cespedes). And of course, with characters like Ozzie Guillen, Logan Morrison, Carlos Zambrano, and Hanley Ramirez all on the same team, it’ll be anything but boring. Even if they lose 90 games, it’ll be fascinating. Might be great and beautiful, might be a train wreck, or might be a terrific balance of all of the above, like Fran Kubelik.
The Yankees are C.C. Baxter.
Baxter, like most of the great Jack Lemmon’s very best characters, is kind of a sad sack when we meet him. He works in an impossibly large sea of desks at a very large company, and his method of standing out from the crowd is a bit odd; he arranges for four of the higher-ups at his company (soon made five, when Mr. Sheldrake joins the group) to have regular use of his apartment (hence the name of the movie) for their regular extramarital dalliances. He’s a generally decent guy who is continually at the mercy of these dirty old men; even when he’s sick, even after he’s gone to bed, he sometimes has to clear out to give his bosses a place to do their illicit thing (if you’re wondering: American hotels in those days had morality-driven safeguards against short-term rentals of rooms to couples who weren’t man and wife).
It works out pretty well for Baxter, professionally; grateful for his discretion and his apartment, the bosses eagerly recommend and promote Baxter, until he’s got his own office on the 27th floor and use of the executive washroom and so forth. Personally, though, he’s kind of whored himself (or his apartment) out to get ahead, and he’s become a pathetic shell of a human being. That’s the way it is until, near the very end of the film, he finally, suddenly awakens as a person and realizes he can’t live this way anymore, sacrificing his life and happiness for the sake of his job. Baxter was threatening to become a shameless corporate shill in the same mold as the guys he’s helping with his apartment, but all at once, makes the decision to walk out on the job and keep (or regain) his dignity.
It’s that very sudden and total transformation that makes Baxter like this season’s Yankees. New York had done essentially nothing all offseason, and had been heavily criticized for their apparent commitment to keep payroll around or below that luxury tax threshold and their failure to address what could be perceived as some pretty big weaknesses, in team-that-won-97-last-year terms, especially their starting rotation.
Then on Friday night, in about the time it takes to play an inning of your typical NYY-BOS matchup, the Yankees made two of the biggest and most impactful moves of the entire offseason, bringing in Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda to turn their one glaring weakness into a pretty obvious strength. After several months of taking crap from their fans and fickle media — just as Baxter was taking crap from his bosses — the Yanks, like Baxter turned it all around in what was essentially one brilliant moment.
Anyway, it’s a great movie. Watch it.