Written and directed by Billy Wilder, an accountant at a large firm loans his apartment to executives and is promoted; but he learns that the boss is having an extra-marital affair with the elevator operator he likes.
C. C. “Bud” Baxter (Jack Lemmon) describes the population of New York City and the insurance company where he works. He has been working on the 19th floor in the accounting department for nearly four years and takes home $93.70 a week. His work day ends at 5:20, but he often works for an extra hour or so because of his apartment.
Bud goes home and looks at his apartment from the street.
In the apartment Al Kirkeby (David Lewis) tells Sylvia that they have to get out of there. He says it is 8:45, and he promised a guy he would be out of there by eight. He says the apartment belongs to some schnook at the office.
On the street Bud is waiting in the cold and speaks to a neighbor. He hides as the couple leave the building. The woman asks Kirkeby to get her a cab, and he says he is a happily married man.
Bud goes inside and gets his mail. He walks up stairs and says hello to Mrs. Dreyfuss (Naomi Stevens) as he gets his key from under the mat. In his apartment he cleans up the glasses. Kirkeby comes back in and says the woman forgot her galoshes. Bud reminds him he was supposed to be gone by eight. Bud says he does not mind in the summer, but this was a rainy night. Kirkeby says he put in a good word for him with Mr. Sheldrake who is always looking for young executives. He also tells Bud he is running out of liquor. Kirkeby asks what happened to the cheese snacks and goes out. Bud lights the oven and puts a frozen dinner in. He makes himself a drink and takes out a basket full of bottles. In the hall he talks with Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) who says he must have a lot going on in his apartment. He asks Bud to leave his body to the university for research, but Bud says they would be disappointed. Bud gets his dinner and eats on the sofa while he watches television, changing channels often to avoid commercials and westerns.
Later that night Bud gets out of bed to answer the phone. Joe Dobisch (Ray Walston) is calling from a bar and says he got lucky. Bud says it is late, and Joe says she looks like Marilyn Monroe. Joe says he is giving him a good efficiency rating. He asks for thirty minutes, and Bud says he is out of liquor. Joe tells him to leave the key and clear out. Bud says yes, hangs up, gets dressed, leaves a note not to be loud, and goes out.
Bud is outside and sees Joe and the blonde go in the building. Joe asks her to get the key under the mat, and they go in. She thinks it is his mother’s apartment. Dr. Dreyfuss hears her giggling and tells his wife he is at it again.
Bud sits on a park bench in the cold.
The next morning Bud sneezes as he comes to work. He says good morning to Kirkeby. In the elevator Bud asks operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) about her new hairstyle. She notices he has a cold but says she never gets them. She tells Kirkeby to watch his hands. Kirkeby tells Bud he would like to date her, but she rejects everybody. The bell rings, and they start to work. Bud calls Dobisch and tells him he left the wrong key. Joe says that is why he could not get into the executive washroom. He says he will send Bud’s key right down. A messenger delivers the key to Bud, and he sends back the other key. Bud looks at his calendar and calls Vanderhoff in Public Relations. Bud tells him he is sick and has to cancel him tonight. Vanderhoff asks for next Wednesday. Bud says he has someone else scheduled and will see what he can do. Bud calls Mr. Eichelberger (David White), and he asks for Friday. Bud says he will get back to him. He calls Kirkeby and asks him to change from Friday to Thursday. Kirkeby calls Sylvia and then Baxter to tell him Thursday is okay. Bud calls Eichelberger that Friday is okay. Then he tells Vanderhoff that Wednesday is okay. The man next to Bud tells him that Sheldrake’s secretary wants to talk to him upstairs.
Bud hurries and gets in Fran’s elevator. He hopes that he is getting promoted. She says he is the only one who takes off his hat in the elevator. He asks if they could have lunch some time. She tells him it is 27, puts a flower on his lapel, and tells him to wipe his nose. Bud tells the secretary Miss Olsen (Edie Adams) he is there to see Sheldrake, and she says he can go in. In his office Jeff D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) says he has heard good things about him. He works late, and executives want him transferred to their departments. He asks what makes him so popular. Sheldrake says he knows what is going on there. He mentions a man who was running a bookie joint, and Sheldrake called in the vice squad. Bud asks what that has to do with him. Sheldrake says there is a key to an apartment floating around, and Bud does not deny it. He explains that a guy said he needed a place to change into a tuxedo, and then others asked him for a place to change. Sheldrake asks how many men are in the club, and Bud says there are just the four. He says from now on no one is going to use his apartment. Sheldrake asks him how it works. He gets a call from his wife, and his secretary listens in. Sheldrake tells Bud not to leave. He tells his wife that he won’t be home till late because he is taking a branch manager to see Music Man. Sheldrake invites Bud to go see the show and says he can have both tickets because he has other plans. Sheldrake says he is swapping the tickets and says Bud is alert and imaginative. Bud realizes he wants the key and gives it to him. Sheldrake says he is executive material, and Bud puts down the key and the address. Sheldrake says it is their little secret and gives him the tickets.
Bud is waiting by the elevators and hears a woman say that a man took her to some schnook’s apartment. He sees Fran and asks her to go to the show with him. She says she has a date tonight for a drink. She says she could meet him at the theater, and he says after the show they can go out on the town. He knows where she lives and who else lives there because he looked up her card. He knows her height, weight, and medical history. She says goodbye, and he reminds her to meet at 8:30.
Fran goes into a bar and sits with Sheldrake. She says she can’t stay very long. He says he likes her hair better long. She says it has been six weeks, and he says he misses her. She says it is like old times. He says he is still crazy about her, but she says she is getting over it. She says they had two wonderful months, but now the picnic is over. The boss goes back to his wife. He says he never said goodbye. At first she kidded herself she was going with an unmarried man, and then she realized it is ugly. She asks what he wants, and he says he wants her back. He has something to tell her and wants to go somewhere else. She says she has a date at 8:30.
Bud is waiting outside the theater.
Sheldrake reminds her of his talking about getting a divorce. She is skeptical, but he says he asked his lawyer how to handle it. She asks if that is what he wants. He says yes if she still loves him. She says she does. He sees Miss Olsen come in and says it is getting crowded. They leave, and Miss Olsen notices them.
Sheldrake says he loves her and takes a cab with her to the address.
Bud is still waiting outside the theater, but he is alone.
At the office Bud moves his things from a desk to a small office as the second administrative assistant. Dobisch, Eichelberger, Vanderhoff, and Kirkeby come into his office to congratulate him. Dobisch praises teamwork, and they ask him why he is locking them out now. They say he is being selfish taking every night of the week. Dobisch says they made him and can break him. Sheldrake comes in and says the four recommended him. The four go out, and Sheldrake sits on his desk. He asks if they can afford a second key. He does not like his secretary seeing him pass the key back and forth. Bud gives him a portable mirror that is broken, and Sheldrake says she threw it at him. He says some women think you are going to divorce your wife. Sheldrake tells him to put him down for Thursday again, and Bud promises to get another key.
Women leave the switchboard to go to a Christmas party on the 19th floor. Bud leaves the party to give a drink to Fran at her elevator. He says he thinks she is tops. He puts up a sign to use the other elevator and takes her to the party. She asks how many drinks he had, and he says three while holding up four fingers. He goes to get her another drink, and Miss Olsen sees Fran and asks her about the branch manager who went out with Sheldrake. She says she is his secretary, and he used to tell his wife that she was a branch manager too when they were having a “ring-a-ding-ding.” She says there were several other women before her. She says he gives them the pitch about divorcing his wife. Fran thanks her, and Miss Olsen says she was glad to do her duty and walks off. Bud comes back and shows Fran his office. He puts on his new bowler hat and asks what she thinks. She is sad but says she likes it. He invites her to go out tonight, and she says it is a bad day for her. He persuades her not to go back to work. He says he is a friend of Sheldrake and shows him his Christmas card from him. He invites her to spend time during the holidays, and she lets him use her broken mirror to see his hat. He recognizes the mirror and asks her about it. He answers the phone and tells her it is personal. She goes out, and Bud tells Sheldrake that the apartment is ready. In the party a woman is dancing on a desk. As Bud is leaving, Kirkeby asks him for tomorrow at four; but Bud just walks away.
In a bar Bud is drinking and has acquired seven olives. A Santa Claus comes in laughing. A woman at the bar shoots straw papers at Bud. Then she goes over and asks him to buy her a drink while she puts a song on the jukebox. He orders the drinks, and the jukebox plays “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” She asks if he likes Castro. She does not like him because he did not answer her letter. She says her husband is in jail in Cuba. She is bored and asks if he is married. He says no. She does not want to go home to an empty apartment. Bud says he did not say he had an empty apartment.
In the apartment Fran is crying while Sheldrake asks her to tell him what is wrong. He says it is not easy to ask for a divorce after twelve years. This is the wrong time with the kids home. He says she is usually fun. She agrees she is a happy idiot. She says that she ran into his secretary who made her laugh so much she could die. He says that is ancient history. She mentions the other girls, and he says he deserves that. He says he does run around with girls because he is unhappy at home, but that is over now. She gives him a Christmas present, and he opens a record and says they should keep it there. He gives her $100 and tells her to buy herself something, and he puts it in her purse. He says its 6:45, and he has to get home. She starts to undress and says it is already paid for. He tells her not to consider herself cheap. He puts on his coat, picks up his Christmas presents and leaves. She stays and puts on the record from the Chinese restaurant and cries. She goes into the bathroom to wash her face off. She notices a prescription and puts water in a glass.
Bud is dancing with the drunk woman, and a worker says it is closing time. He stops the music and tells them to get out. She says her place or his. He says they can go to his because everybody else does. They walk to his apartment.
On the stairs she asks if he has a girlfriend. He says he has a girl who is not a friend. He introduces himself as an Arthur Murray graduate and lover. They go in the apartment, and he takes off her coat. He says he has promised his body to the Columbia Medical Center. She goes into the kitchen for ice. He finds the record player on and removes the record. He plays another record and dances. He finds a pair of white gloves and throws them on his bed.
In the bedroom he finds Fran sleeping on the bed. He tries to wake her and says he used to like her. He finds the pill bottle and realizes she must have taken them. He runs out and knocks on the door of Dr. Dreyfuss whom he persuades to come right away. Bud tells the woman to leave and pushes her out. He gives her money to call her husband in Havana. She is angry but goes out. Bud stops the record and goes into the bedroom. The doctor asks how many pills were in the bottle. He has Bud help him take her into the bathroom. He tells him to make coffee and pray. He goes into the kitchen and makes instant coffee. He can hear her coughing in the bedroom. He finds an envelope. The doctor carries her to the living-room, asks for his bag, and gives her a shot in the arm. The doctor asks him what happened. Bud says he was not there. He says they had a quarrel earlier, but it was not serious. The doctor says he picked up another dame and calls him a cutie pie. The doctor slaps her face several times and gives her smelling salts. Bud goes to get coffee. The doctor gives her some, and she coughs. He has Bud open the windows to get air in there. The doctor calls her name and tells her that she took too many sleeping pills. He says he is a doctor and asks Bud to bring more coffee. He asks her to say his name and what happened to her. She cooperates but says she does not know where she is. He asks if she knows Bud, and she says he is Baxter from the 19th floor. She asks why he is there. Bud says they had a fight at the office party, and that is what it is about. The doctor says they have to get her to walk. He and Bud help her walk back and forth with her arms on their shoulders. The doctor puts her to bed and says she will sleep on and off for the next 24 hours. He sits down and asks for coffee. He asks how to spell her name and her address. Bud asks if he has to report this. The doctor says he can’t prove it was not an accident. He tells Bud it was bound to happen the way he carries on. He warns him he was lucky this time, and most of them try it again. He goes out. Bud plugs in the electric blanket and sits by the bed.
Mrs. Lieberman tells Baxter to open up and asks what happened last night. She complains she was awake all night, and she warns him this is a respectable house. She leaves, and he closes the door. He calls Sheldrake who is playing with his two sons by the Christmas tree. His son Jeff tells him Baxter is calling. Bud tells Sheldrake to come to the apartment as soon as possible. He says a certain person took an overdose of sleeping pills. Sheldrake asks how serious it is. Bud says he thought Sheldrake would like to be there when she wakes up. Bud says she left a letter for him and offers to open and read it to him. Bud says the doctor is his friend, and he says sometimes they try it again. He says he will try to keep her there as long as he can. He asks if Sheldrake has any message for her and says he will think of something. He hangs up, and Fran tells him she is sorry. She did not know this was his apartment. She asks why he didn’t let her die. She says her head feels strange. She says she should go home. She wants to brush her teeth, and he gets her a toothbrush. He sees a razor and removes the blades. He says he is going out to get some coffee.
In the hall Bud asks Mrs. Dreyfuss if he can borrow some coffee. She blames him, and he tries to laugh it off. She offers to fix her something to eat.
In the apartment Fran says she is calling her sister, and Bud stops her. He questions what she will tell her and advises her against calling anyone. She says her brother-in-law might call the police. He says Sheldrake is a married man, and she says he does not care about her. He hears the bell, and Mrs. Dreyfuss brings in a tray of food and gives it to Fran who is back in bed. Mrs. Dreyfuss sends Bud to get napkins from her apartment. She tells Fran to forget him as she feeds soup to her. Mrs. Dreyfuss says she will come back later. Fran tells Bud that Mrs. Dreyfuss does not like him much. She asks about the envelope and has him open it. He says there is nothing in it but $100, and she asks him to make sure that Mr. Sheldrake gets it. He asks if she plays gin rummy, and he gets the cards. He prepares a score pad and deals the cards. She says she is going to give it all up. She asks why people have to love people. She asks what it is when one keeps getting into automobile accidents. She says her first kiss was in a cemetery when she was fifteen. He says he has gin and adds up her points. She tells about her boyfriends who left her. She came to New York and flunked a typing test because she could not spell. She became an elevator operator and met Sheldrake. She asks if he was upset, and he says he was. She hopes he loves her and thinks he may not have the guts to tell his wife. She wants to write a letter to his wife, and he stops her, saying that is not a good idea. They continue the game, and he gets gin again. She falls asleep, and he pulls the covers over her arms. He feels his beard and goes into the bathroom to shave.
Outside Kirkeby arrives with Sylvia.
Bud hears the bell and answers the door with shaving cream on his face. Kirkeby comes in and says he has a reservation. Bud says he cannot come in, but Kirkeby tries to pull rank on him. Bud says he is throwing him out. Kirkeby sees a dress hanging up, smiles, and asks why he didn’t say he had a playmate.
In the hall Dr. Dreyfuss is coming home and sees Sylvia pounding on the door.
Kirkeby wishes Bud well and goes out. Fran asks Bud who that was, and he says someone brought champagne. She asks him to open the window. He says it is only the second floor, and she would only break a leg. He asks her to promise she will not try anything. She asks why she does not fall in love with someone nice like him.
Sheldrake arrives and asks Mill Olsen to come into his office. He is angry and sarcastically thanks her for giving Fran a pep talk. She is fired and will get a month’s severance pay. She says he let her go four years ago but cruelly let her sit out there and watch new models pass by. He asks her to leave as soon as she can, and she says yes. She goes out, and he asks for Baxter’s home phone number. Miss Olsen listens as he calls.
Bud answers the phone and says she is coming along fine. Sheldrake asks if he needs money. Bud says he has $100 for Sheldrake. Bud asks him to help Fran and pleads with him to be gentle. Bud says Sheldrake wants to talk with her and goes out to get something. She picks up the phone and says she is all right. He calls her childish and says he was scared. He offers to forget the whole thing. After a pause she says she is not there and asks if that is how he wants it. He denies that and says goodbye.
Miss Olsen calls Mrs. Sheldrake and arranges to have lunch with her. Sheldrake comes out and sees her on the phone. Miss Olsen says she is on her way and goes out.
Bud carries groceries, and on the stairs Mrs. Lieberman says she thought she smelled gas coming from his apartment. He hurries in, smells the gas, and turns off the stove. He finds Fran who says she is all right. He asks if she turned on the gas, but she did not know she was supposed to light it. She is washing his socks for him. She asks why he has a tennis racket in the kitchen, and he says he uses it to strain spaghetti. He says he is a good cook but a lousy housekeeper. She says she found hairpins and lipsticks, and he says he is a guy who can’t say no. She realizes it is men like Sheldrake whom she calls a “taker.” She wants to go, and he says the doctor said it takes 48 hours to get that stuff out of your system. She wonders how long it takes to get someone she is stuck on out of her system. Bud says he was in love with the wife of his friend and was going to shoot himself. He accidentally shot himself in the knee, and he got over the girl in three weeks. She asks if he is just telling her these things to make her feel better, and he tries to show her his knee.
By the elevators a man and a woman are looking for Fran Kubelik.
In Dobisch’s office Kirkeby says he found Kubelik in the apartment, and neither came to work today. Fran’s brother Karl Matuschka comes in and tells Dobisch that his wife is nervous because Fran has not been home for two days. He wants to know what happened to her. They discuss whether to tell him and realize they have nothing to lose now.
Bud dumps spaghetti on the tennis racket to drain it and serves it into the bowl. Fran in a robe asks if they are dressing for dinner, and he says no. They sit down at a table with candles. He pours drinks, and they toast. He asks what they are going to do after dinner; but she doesn’t have to if she doesn’t want to. He says they are going to play gin. Karl rings, comes in, and asks Fran if she forgot where she lives. Karl pushes Bud aside and insists she go with him because her sister thinks she is a lady. She goes to the bedroom to dress, and Bud offers him food. Karl does not say anything. Dr. Dreyfuss comes back and asks about the patient. Bud says he is fine, and Karl questions the doctor. He asks what is wrong, and she says she took sleeping pills. Bud says it was because of him, and Karl hits him twice, knocking him down. She calls Bud a fool, kisses him, and goes out with Karl. Dr. Dreyfuss says he had it coming, and he goes to get his bag. Bud says it does not hurt.
At the office Bud arrives with dark glasses. He calls Sheldrake’s office and says he is coming up. He hangs up and talks to himself about what he plans to say to Sheldrake about taking over Fran from him. He answers the phone and says he will be right up.
Bud takes the elevator, and Dobisch and Kirkeby notice his black eye. On his way Bud says he is in a financial position to marry her. He goes into the Sheldrake’s office, and Sheldrake says he is going to take her off his hands. He moved out of his house to the YMCA. He says he fired his secretary, and she got to his wife. Bud says Fran is feeling all right and went home. Sheldrake shows an office to Baxter and says he is his new assistant. Bud says he is glad that Fran is going to be married to someone. Sheldrake says he now has executive privileges. Bud says he was kicked in the head too.
Bud sees that he is now assistant director. Fran says good evening to him and asks about his eye and his apartment. He says they never finished the gin game. She says Sheldrake left his wife, and Bud says she was wrong about Sheldrake. Bud says he was using him, and now he is on the 27th floor in a nice office. She asks him to walk her to the subway, but Bud points out his date. She says she is not going to see Sheldrake until he gets his divorce. He says that is wise, and they say goodnight. Bud walks past the woman he pointed out and buys a book.
Sheldrake is having his shoes shined and calls Baxter into his office. Bud gives him statistics, and Sheldrake says he is taking Fran out tonight. He asks for the key and says he threw out the other one. Bud says he will not give him his key, especially for Fran. Sheldrake warns him he could be out on the street in thirty seconds. Bud tosses a key on the desk and goes into his office. Sheldrake comes in and says he gave him the key to the executive washroom. Bud says he decided to be a human being, and he leaves.
In his apartment Bud answers the door. Dr. Dreyfuss asks if has extra ice for New Year’s Eve. He invites Bud to join them. Bud asks him how much he owes him for taking care of the girl, but the doctor says he did it as a neighbor. They shake hands, and the doctor goes out.
At a New Year’s Eve party Fran is sitting at a table, and Sheldrake comes back. He says they are driving to Atlantic City because they cannot find a hotel room in New York on New Year’s Eve. He says that Baxter would not give him the key to his apartment, and he asks what he has against her. At twelve people sing “Auld Lang Syne.” Fran is smiling. When Sheldrake turns around after the song, she is gone.
Fran is running to the apartment, and on the stairs she hears a shot. She pounds on the door, and Bud with a bubbling bottle of champagne answers the door. She asks if he is all right and asks if she can come in. She sees he is packing and asks where he is going. He says he has to get another job and is on his own. She says she is too. She asks where the cards are, and she shuffles them. He asks about Sheldrake, and she says they will send him a fruitcake every Christmas. Bud says he loves her and adores her. She tells him to shut up and deal, and she smiles and takes off her coat.
This comedy satirizes philandering executives and contrasts them with a humble guy who generously helps other people. A woman comes to realize that her affair with a married man is not going to last, and she discovers a man who really loves her.