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New York opening: 15 Jun 1960; Los Angeles opening: 21 Jun 1960; London premiere: 23 Jul 1960
late Nov 1959--early Feb 1960 at Samuel Goldwyn Studios
Duration (in mins):
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(C. C. "Buddy" Baxter)
(J. D. "Jeff" Sheldrake)
(Mr. Joe Dobisch)
(Mr. Al Kirkeby)
(Mrs. Mildred Dreyfuss)
Frances Weintraub Lax
(The Santa Claus)
(Office maintenance man)
In New York in November 1959, C. C. “Buddy” Baxter toils in anonymity in the vast, impersonal offices of Consolidated Life Insurance. At his small apartment, however, Buddy has attracted the attention of several Consolidated executives who “borrow” the space for their extramarital trysts. Buddy, continually assured that he will gain a speedy promotion in thanks for his extra apartment key, endures repeated indignities and spends many of his nights walking the streets, looking up longingly at his own window. In addition, the constant flow of women to the apartment earns Buddy the antipathy of his neighbors, including kindly Dr. Dreyfuss and his wife Mildred, who assume that he is a callous playboy. In reality, Buddy lives a quiet, lonely life, and one night when Consolidated manager Joe Dobisch insists on using the apartment, Buddy contracts a cold while sitting outside in the rain waiting to be allowed back in. In the morning, Buddy works up the nerve to talk to elevator girl Fran Kubelik, who has a reputation among the executives as being hard to get. After spending the afternoon juggling apartment “appointments” so he can rest alone that evening, Buddy is called to the office of personnel manager J. D. “Jeff” Sheldrake, who confronts him about his popularity with the various executives. Although Buddy is worried he will be fired, in reality the married Sheldrake is attempting to intimidate him into lending him the apartment key, and despite his cold, Buddy is buoyed by Sheldrake’s promise of an executive position. Unaware that Sheldrake’s current girl friend is Fran, Buddy asks her to a play that evening. Because Fran is planning to break up with Sheldrake, she tells Buddy she will join him after meeting her “date” briefly. Fran later meets Sheldrake at a bar and tells him it is too painful for her to date a married man, but he convinces her that he is just about to ask his wife for a divorce. While Buddy waits at the theater, Sheldrake takes Fran back to Buddy’s apartment. Soon after, Buddy receives his promised promotion and proudly marches away from the 17th floor’s endless rows of underlings into a private office on the 19th floor. Dobisch and the other executives, frustrated that they have not been allowed to use the apartment lately, threaten Buddy’s new job but he remains securely in Sheldrake’s good graces, still unaware that Sheldrake’s constant dates at the apartment are with Fran. At Christmas, the 19th floor hosts a party at which most of the company’s employees carouse and imbibe. Buddy is thrilled to see Fran but does not realize that Sheldrake’s secretary, Miss Olsen, has just informed Fran that Sheldrake routinely seduces all the women in the office, using the same speech to make each conquest. Dazed, Fran barely listens to Buddy’s conversation, and when she pulls out her compact, he recognizes it as the one Sheldrake’s “girl friend” once left at the apartment. Upon learning that Sheldrake plans another tryst that evening, a distraught Buddy retreats to a nearby bar, becoming ill-humoredly drunk with melancholy stranger Margie MacDougall. Meanwhile, Fran meets Sheldrake at the apartment and, receiving his Christmas gift of a $100 bill, becomes despondent. After Sheldrake leaves, Fran swallows Buddy’s bottle of sleeping pills and passes out on his bed. When Buddy returns with Margie, he finds Fran and, throwing Margie out, rushes to Dr. Dreyfuss to ask for help. Dreyfuss, assuming that Buddy has mistreated Fran and driven her to suicide, excoriates Buddy while ministering to Fran. Under his care, she survives, and they return her to bed. Although Dreyfuss wants to report the situation, Buddy talks him out of it, after which Dreyfuss urges him to be “a
,” the Yiddish word for a good human being. The next morning, as Sheldrake is celebrating Christmas with his family, Buddy calls to inform him of Fran’s condition, and Fran awakens in time to hear Sheldrake refuse to talk to her. When she tries to leave, Buddy detains her, both for her safety and to keep her near him as long as possible. Mildred agrees to prepare breakfast for Fran, and delivers soup along with a lecture to Fran to forget Buddy and marry a nice boy. Buddy plays cards with Fran until she falls asleep, assuring her that this Christmas is vastly preferable to his typical lonely holidays. Soon, Consolidated executive Al Kirkeby arrives with his girl friend, Sylvia, but upon spotting Fran in the bed, congratulates Buddy and leaves. When Fran wakes and wonders who would mind if she died, Buddy confesses that he would mind very much, and Fran questions why she never falls in love with “nice guys like you.” The next morning, Sheldrake fires Miss Olsen, who after eavesdropping on his brief phone conversation with Fran, arranges to meet Sheldrake’s wife to inform her about her husband’s infidelities. Back at the apartment, Buddy attempts to prepare a nice meal for Fran using a tennis racket as a spaghetti strainer. During a discussion of their romantic misfortunes, Buddy admits that he once bought a revolver and accidentally shot himself in the knee while contemplating suicide. Just as they are ready to eat, Fran’s brother-in-law, Karl Matuschka, comes over, tipped off by the disgruntled Dobisch and Kirkeby. At the same time, Dreyfuss visits, and when he inadvertently reveals to Karl that Fran overdosed, Buddy takes the blame to save Fran’s reputation, earning himself a black eye from Karl and a grateful kiss on the forehead from Fran. In the morning, he prepares to inform Sheldrake that he will “take Fran off his hands,” but Sheldrake announces that his wife has kicked him out so he plans, after an interlude to enjoy his bachelorhood, to reunite with Fran. Buddy’s depression is only slightly mollified by the news that he has been promoted to Sheldrake’s assistant, with a 24th floor office and key to the executive washroom. On New Year’s Eve, however, when Sheldrake asks for the apartment key to rendezvous with Fran, Buddy refuses and quits, informing Sheldrake that he has decided to become a
. That night at Buddy's apartment, while he packs his belongings, including the revolver, Fran attends a party with Sheldrake and learns that Buddy quit rather than allow him to take Fran to his apartment. Finally realizing that Buddy loves her more than Sheldrake does, she slips out of the party and races to Buddy’s apartment. On the stairs, she hears a loud crack, and fearing that Buddy has shot himself, pounds on his door, only to discover that he has merely popped open a bottle of champagne. As Fran settles down to deal a game of cards, Buddy proclaims his love to her, and cheerfully, she tells him to “shut up and deal.”
The Mirisch Company, Inc.
United Artists Corp.
I. A. L. Diamond
I. A. L. Diamond
(Dir of photog)
Edward G. Boyle
Forrest T. Butler
(Sd eff ed)
Gordon E. Sawyer
(Sd dir, Samuel Goldwyn Studios sd dept)
(Choreographer of Christmas party dance)
Allen K. Wood
Dr. Reuben Kaufman
(Stand-in for Jack Lemmon)
"Lonely Room" by Adolph Deutsch; "Jealous Lover" by Charles Williams.
"Auld Lang Syne," words by Robert Burns, music Scottish traditional; "Adeste fideles (O, Come All Ye Faithful)," music by John Francis Wade, English lyrics by Frederick Oakeley.
John Francis Wade
Mirisch Co., Inc.
Westrex Recording System
New Year's Eve
New York City
The film begins with voice-over commentary by Jack Lemmon, as "C. C. ‘Buddy’ Baxter," who describes the vastness of New York and the large, impersonal nature of the Consolidated Life Insurance Company. The picture involves a running gag in which Buddy affects the executives’ jargon by adding “wise” to the end of numerous words. This form of slang, which was popular at the time, was also used in the film's advertising. The last line of
, “Shut up and deal,” has gained the status of one of the cinema’s iconic lines. The character of "The blonde," played by Joyce Jameson, is referred to in the film as "a Marilyn Monroe lookalike" and imitates that actress' voice and mannerisms.
Contemporary sources note that associate producer I. A. L. Diamond and producer-director Billy Wilder wrote
specifically for Lemmon, just after filming finished on
Some Like It Hot
(1959, see below). Wilder stated in a modern interview that he was inspired by the character of the man who lends his apartment to the lovers in
, the 1945 David Lean film (see
AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50
). Wilder described his story note as reading, "Movie about the guy who climbs into the warm bed left by two lovers." The 1960
article stated that Wilder had originally planned the story as a play, but upon realizing that the important office set could not be shown to full effect on a stage, he and Diamond reconceived it as a film. Diamond asserted in the article that the film comments on "the mores of the American business community."
announced in Aug 1959 that Paul Douglas was cast as "J. D. 'Jeff' Sheldrake," he suffered a fatal heart attack on 11 Sep 1959 and Fred MacMurray was offered the role. In interviews, MacMurray stated that he was initially reluctant to portray such a nefarious character when the public associated him with roles such as the father in the popular television comedy
My Three Sons
, but that he reconsidered after thinking about his successful role as a murderer in Wilder's 1944
AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1940-51
According to a feature on Wilder in
in Jan 1960, the script for
was only half-finished when shooting began, a customary practice of Wilder's that allowed him to tailor the roles to the actors after they were cast. Press materials note that exterior shooting all took place at night in New York City, including locations such as Central Park, the Majestic Theatre lobby and Columbus Avenue. The rest of the film was shot at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios in Los Angeles. There, the filmmakers constructed the huge interior set of the insurance office, designed to represent the demoralizing, impersonal nature of the corporate environment.
According to press notes, the set was made of glass and metal and covered more than 25,000 square feet. In a modern interview, Wilder described the techniques they used to create the vast office space, including forced perspective with progressively smaller sized desks that recede into cardboard cutouts. Although Wilder claimed in a modern interview that he placed progressively smaller actors at the desks, finally casting dwarves, art director Alexander Trauner has stated that the actors in the back rows were children.
reported in Dec 1959 that the set included nearly $4 million worth of loaned office equipment, attended to by operators supplied by the IBM corporation.
Press materials add that the artwork seen in the office of Sheldrake, including paintings by Massimo Campigli and Paul Klee, were from the personal collection of Wilder, a well-known art collector, and that the bed in Buddy's apartment was owned by Wilder, who had previously used the prop as Audrey Hepburn's childhood bed in
(see below). Edie Adams and Hope Holiday made their feature film debuts in
. Although Dec 1959 and Jan 1960
news items add the following actors to the cast, their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed: Edith Simmons, Shirley Adams, Elaine Walker, Diana Green, Lynn Cartier, Darlene Hendricks, Dorothy Partington, Charna Haven, Italo De Nubila, Nona Carver, Beverly Ravel, June Smaney and Anita King. A modern source adds David Macklin, Dorothy Abbott and Mason Curry to the cast and credits Angelo Laiacona as assistant director.
As noted in the
review, Charles Williams' song "Jealous Lover" was retitled "Theme from
" for its popular commercial release. The film's Los Angeles premiere on 21 Jun 1960 benefitted the Vista Del Mar Child Guidance Foundation. The film was chosen as the official U.S. entry in the Venice Film Festival, 24 Aug--7 Sep 1960. Reviews of the picture were strong, with the
reviewer stating that Lemmon “takes precedence as our top comedian by virtue of his work in this film.”
marked the beginning of a transition for Lemmon from purely comedic roles to dramatic ones, culminating with his portrayal of an alcoholic in 1962’s
The Days of Wine and Roses
AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70
). He went on to make more five more features with Wilder, including 1963’s
Irma La Douce
AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70
The Front Page
in 1974. Despite references in modern sources to tension between MacLaine and Wilder, she also went on to work with him as the title character in
Irma La Douce
, for which she won an Academy Award nomination.
won many honors, including Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, Art Direction (Alexander Trauner and Edward G. Boyle) and Editing (Daniel Mandell). In addition, Lemmon, MacLaine, Jack Kruschen, cinematographer Joseph LaShelle and sound director Gordon E. Sawyer received Oscar nominations.
marked the last completely black-and-white film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture until
(2011), although the majority of the 1993 Best Picture winner,
, was shot in black-and-white.
garnered Golden Globe awards for Best Picture, Actor and Actress; the Grammy for Best Soundtrack; the Directors Guild of America Award for Wilder; and the picture won the British Film Academy Award for Best Film. More recently,
was ranked 80th on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving up from the 93rd position it held on AFI's 1997 list.
, which was based on
, opened on Broadway on 1 Dec 1968. The play, which starred Jerry Orbach, was produced by David Merrick and was written by Neil Simon with a score by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David. A Jan 1969
news item stated that United Artists retained first rights to the purchase of the musical's film rights. Although some modern sources state that the 2000 film
, directed by Amy Heckerling and starring Jason Biggs, was based on
, as Heckerling asserted in a Jul 2000
article, the similarities are coincidental.
23 May 1960.
6 Jun 1960.
18 May 60
29 Jan 1969.
31 Jul 2000
p. 4, 18.
19 May 60
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14 Sep 1959
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26 Jul 1960
5 Aug 1960
22 Jun 1960.
Los Angeles Times
23 Jun 1960
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
21 May 60
New York Times
24 Jan 1960.
New York Times
12 Jun 1960.
New York Times
16 Jun 60
New York Times
18 Jun 2000.
18 May 60
15 Dec 1961.
Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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