Is Fran Kubelik More Whore than Mistress?

One of Billy Wilder’s most beloved characters, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), has often been pegged as the type of girl looking for love in all the wrong places. As the beleaguered mistress of Jeff Shaldrake (Fred MacMurray), the director of personnel at a behemoth of an insurance company, Fran must watch him not only fraternize with other ladies of the office, but also live with the fact that he’s never going to leave his wife.

The innocent air of Fran
The innocent air of Fran

All the while, lurking in the shadows of lust is C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), a lowly insurance agent, who talks to her whenever he’s in the elevator with her (she is, after all, the elevator girl). Wanting desperately for Fran to notice him, he dares to ask her to a musical. To his surprise, Fran accepts, but with the caveat that she has to meet him at the theater. Fran then goes to meet her now former flame, Sheldrake, at a bar, where he cajoles her into getting back together with him. Earlier that day, C.C. had promised to give his apartment to Sheldrake in exchange for a promotion. C.C., known for allowing other high level associates to use his apartment to bring their mistresses, consented to Sheldrake’s terms, unaware that it would be Fran he was planning to take there.

Trying to get Fran's notice, but since he ain't offering to pay...
Trying to get Fran’s notice, but since he ain’t offering to pay…

In many ways, C.C. is the gigolo to Fran’s whore, though instead of using his body to degrade himself, he uses his apartment. And Fran, for as much as she tries to come off as the innocent, doe-eyed victim, knows on some level her effect on men, including C.C. And then there are the reasons why Fran is attracted to Sheldrake to consider: He’s a successful, wealthy asshole–just what every shrewd working girl looks for in a man. 

Post suicide attempt
Post suicide attempt

Where Fran also shares similarities to a prostitute is in her flair for the dramatic. After finding out from Sheldrake’s secretary that not only does he have affairs on the regular, but he also always tells them he’s going to leave his wife, Fran retreats to C.C.’s apartment (not knowing it belongs to him) and attempts to overdose on sleeping pills. C.C. furthers her emblematic nature of a whore by instantly coming to her rescue and taking the blame when his neighbor doctor asks why she did it. And there’s nothing more typical than a woman fallen from grace being “saved” by a man. So maybe Fran isn’t all-out whore, but with Wilder as her creator, there are some definite tendencies.