This was the last B&W movie to win Best Picture at The Academy Awards until The Artist (2011). Schindler's List (1993) which won in 1994 was not completely B&W as some scenes were in color, like the girl in the red and the candle at the beginning.
Billy Wilder originally thought of the idea for the film after seeing Brief Encounter (1945) and wondering about the plight of a character unseen in that film. Shirley MacLaine was only given forty pages of the script because Wilder didn't want her to know how the story would turn out. She thought it was because the script wasn't finished.
To create the effect of a vast sea of faces labouring grimly and impersonally at their desks in the huge insurance company office, designers Alexandre Trauner and Edward G. Boyle devised an interesting technique. Full-sized actors sat at the desks in the front and dwarfs were used at tiny desks toward the rear, followed by even smaller desks with cut-out figures operated by wires. It gave the effect of a much larger space than could have been achieved in the limited studio space.
Billy Wilder claimed that Fred MacMurray was a very stingy man in real life and liked to relate an amusing incident from the filming of the picture. In one scene MacMurray was supposed to tip a shoeshine man and the script called for him to flip him a quarter. When Macmurray couldn't get it right during shooting, Wilder suggested using a bigger fifty cent piece. MacMurray objected because, "I would never give him fifty cents - I cannot play the scene!"
According to Shirley MacLaine on her official web site, much of the movie was written as filming progressed. The gin rummy game was added because at the time she was learning how to play the game from her friends in the Rat Pack. Likewise, when she started philosophizing about love during a lunch break one day, this was also added to the script.
The office Christmas party scene was actually filmed on December 23, 1959, so as to catch everybody in the proper holiday mood. Billy Wilder filmed almost all of it on the first take, stating to an observer, "I wish it were always this easy. Today, I can just shout 'action' and stand back."
This is the first Best Picture Oscar winner to specifically refer to a previous winner, in this case two of them. First Grand Hotel (1932), which Baxter attempts to watch on television but is too long delayed because of commercials. Bud's boss also refers to Bud and Fran having "a lost weekend" together in Bud's apartment, a reference to Billy Wilder's earlier Oscar winner, The Lost Weekend (1945).
Jack Lemmon said he learned much about filmmaking from Billy Wilder, particularly the director's use of "hooks," bits of business the audience remembers long after they've forgotten other aspects of the movie. One such hook was the passing of the key to Baxter's apartment. Lemmon said for years after the picture's release, people would come up to him and say, "Hey, Jack, can I have the key?"
Both C.C. Baxter and Fran Kubelik at different times hold up 4 fingers but say 3, C.C. Baxter says he only had 3 drinks at the Christmas party but holds up 4 fingers and Fran Kubelik says she's only had 3 boyfriends but holds up 4 fingers.
Billy Wilder wrote the role of "Dr. Dreyfuss" for Lou Jacobi. But the producers of Jacobi's Broadway play wouldn't release him to make the film. So Jack Kruschen played the role and received an Oscar nomination. Wilder made it up to Jacobi by casting him as "Moustache" in Irma la Douce (1963) after the previously announced Charles Laughton died.
Jack Lemmon related later in life how Billy Wilder kept his film editor, Doane Harrison, on the set with him at all times as associate producer and never made a shot until they both discussed it. As a result, he was able to shoot sparingly, cutting the film in the camera and eliminating costly set-ups that might never be used.
Billy Wilder and cinematographer Joseph LaShelle were occasionally at odds over the film's look. LaShelle, who had worked with directors who came primarily from television, wanted to use more close-ups, a shot Wilder prefers to avoid.
Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond would allow not even the slightest deviation from their script. Shirley MacLaine drove them crazy with her ad-libbing. She was forced to do one of the elevator scenes five times because she kept missing one word.
Although Adolph Deutsch received sole screen credit for the music score, the very popular "Theme from The Apartment" was actually a pre-existing piece of music (originally "Jealous Lover", 1949) by British composer Charles Williams, who was known for his scores for British films and BBC radio dramas.
Jack Lemmon was playing with a nasal spray prop in his dressing room and discovered if he gave it a sharp squeeze, it would squirt ten feet. He filled it with milk to make the liquid visible on black-and-white film, and when Fred MacMurray, chastises him for creating a problem around the use of the apartment, Lemmon gave the container a squeeze. The milk shot out and sailed right past MacMurray's nose. Billy Wilder left the take in.
Jack Lemmon said of his character - "As I saw it, [Baxter] was ambitious; a nice guy but gullible, easily intimidated, and fast to excuse his behaviour. In the end, he changes because he faces up to having rationalized his morals. He realizes he's been a dumb kid, he's been had."
C.C. Baxter is given a ticket to "The Music Man" and asks Fran Kubelik to meet him at the Majestic Theater on 44th street. "The Music Man" ran at the Majestic from December 19, 1957 to October 22, 1960. It moved to The Broadway Theatre October 24, 1960 - April 15, 1961. It won the 1958 Tony Award for Best Musical.
In 1968, playwright Neil Simon adapted the screenplay as the book for the Broadway musical "Promises, Promises". It spawned the hit song "I'll Never Fall in Love Again", composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. "Promises, Promises" opened at the Shubert Theater on December 1, 1968 and ran for 1281 performances. The first Broadway revival opened at the Broadway Theater April 25, 2010 starring Kristin Chenoweth.
In the opening, Baxter explains that if the whole population of New York City (8,042,783) at an average height of 5 feet 6.5 inches were laid head-to-foot, they would reach from Times Square "to the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan." And they would, indeed - and another 1200 miles more, almost to the south tip of India.
In addition to the two genuine Tiffany lamps in Baxter's apartment (one is a Daffodil pattern, the other a Spider pattern; they would now sell for between $20,000 and $40,000 each), there is leaded glass shade in the Periwinkle pattern, made by the Unique Art Glass and Metal Company. This shade would be worth about $1,500-$2,000 at present. This film was shot before antique leaded glass shades became collectible; in the early 1960s they were items that could be found inexpensively in thrift stores.
David Lewis remarks that the tryst he assumed Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine were engaged in amounted to a "Lost Weekend.," which alludes to Billy Wlder's other Best Picture Oscar of fifteen years earlier.
When Fran first tries to call her sister from Baxter's living room after being revived, Baxter's record collection can be seen below Fran's left shoulder. The one visible album cover is "The First Lady Of Song" by Ella Fitzgerald. One of the songs is "Blue Lou", which contains the lyrics "So blue and brokenhearted/Before her romance got started/Cryin', sighin' is all she'll ever do/Forgettin' regrettin' the love she never knew".
Mrs. Dreyfuss, the neighbor of C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) and the wife of the doctor, is describing the playboy lifestyle that think Baxter lives to Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). Mrs. Dreyfuss refers to him as "a regular King Farouk." King Farouk (1920-1965) was one of the last kings of Egypt. He was renowned for his extravagant lifestyle and as an international playboy, with many marriages and mistresses.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
During the scene where Fran overdoses on sleeping pills, doctors were actually present on the set to advise accuracy on how to revive her. The harsh slaps that the doctor performs to keep Fran from becoming unconscious were all real. However, after the scene, the doctors told Billy Wilder that the actor should have slapped Shirley MacLaine harder. Wilder refused to shoot it again though, after looking at MacLaine's red cheeks from being slapped so many times.