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Auchter's Art: Still trying to reconcile

Oct 20, 2017

It's ironic to me that the best guidance for men, specifically men with power, comes from a film made in the 1960s, an era when sexual predatory behavior was often encouraged, if not celebrated.

In the movie The Apartment, C.C. Baxter (played by Jack Lemmon) is a bright and earnest young man trying to make a success of himself at a big insurance company in New York City.

Baxter is single and lives in an apartment in the city near the office, whereas the executives he works with,  and is eager to impress, are married and live in the suburbs.

To improve his career opportunities, Baxter reluctantly lends the key to his apartment to some of these executives for trysts with women who are clearly not their wives.

His next door neighbors and the landlady assume Baxter is some sort of party boy, with the loud music and noises and constant parade of various women. He lets them think this to protect the reputations of his superiors. Baxter knows he's being used, but he rationalizes his moral misgivings by throwing himself even harder into climbing the corporate ladder.

At work, Baxter meets and finds himself falling for a young woman, Fran Kubelik (played by Shirley MacLaine). Unfortunately, he soon discovers that Miss Kubelik is the mistress of a very high-level executive to whom Baxter recently started lending his apartment key. The man is cruel and manipulative, leading Kubelik on to a point where she attempts suicide by ingesting sleeping pills.

Baxter comes home late that evening to find her passed out in his bed. At first he is furious, but soon realizes the situation and rushes next door to get the doctor. Dr. Dreyfuss is able revive her and once she is somewhat stabilized, he tears into Baxter:

Dr. Dreyfuss: I don't know what you did to that girl in there — and don't tell me — but it was bound to happen, the way you carry on. Live now, pay later. Diner's Club! Why don't you grow up, Baxter? Be a mensch! You know what that means?

C.C. Baxter: I'm not sure.

Dr. Dreyfuss: A mensch — a human being!

It turns out the film's advice is deceptively simple: No matter who you are — from an everyday Joe to a celebrated entertainer, a Hollywood mogul, or even the President of the United States — first be a mensch, a decent human being.

Let's hope we can all follow the good doctor's advice.

John Auchter is a freelance editorial cartoonist. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or its license holder the University of Michigan.