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An ambitious young clerk in a big New York insurance company climbs the ladder to corporate success - by lending his apartment to executives for their extramarital affairs. But complications arise when he falls in love with the company's elevator operator, then realizes she is having an affair with his married boss.
Producer/Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Editing: Daniel Mandell
Art Direction: Alexander Trauner
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Jack Lemmon (C.C. "Bud" Baxter), Shirley MacLaine (Fran Kubelik), Fred MacMurray (Jeff Sheldrake), Ray Walston (Joe Dobisch), Jack Kruschen (Dr. Dreyfuss), Edie Adams (Miss Olsen).
BW-126m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
Why THE APARTMENT is Essential
One of the most popular and acclaimed writer-director-producers of his time, Billy Wilder created in The Apartment what many consider the summation of all he had done on screen up to that point. He was the master of a type of bittersweet comedy that had a sadness and a barbed commentary of modern life at its core. Even his darkest dramas - among them Double Indemnity (1944), Sunset Boulevard (1950), and The Big Carnival (aka Ace in the Hole, 1951) - had elements of sardonic, macabre satire. With this film, he managed to make a commercially successful entertainment that, for all its laughter and romance, took a serious stab at the prevailing attitudes and way of life of a country where getting ahead in business had become the greatest measure of personal success.
Wilder's brilliance at balancing light and dark material is evident in the scene from The Apartment where Jack Lemmon's character comes home drunk with a bar pick-up to find Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) unconscious on his bed with an empty bottle of sleeping pills next to her. Lemmon goes back and forth between the kooky pick-up in the living room, which is all comedy, and the dying girl he loves in the bedroom. Wilder walks the tightrope between humor and tragedy and creates sympathy for his morally ambiguous characters in a way very few filmmakers could pull off.
"I always felt that Billy Wilder grew a rose in a garbage pail with this one," Jack Lemmon later stated. "He was throwing cold water right in our faces about the terrible false premises with which most of our society lives. He challenged our priorities and the way we rationalize our behavior on the grounds of getting ahead in America - at a time when it wasn't fashionable to challenge these things. He gave us a pretty good jolt, and it hasn't been done a hell of a lot better since then."
The movie was also a hallmark in Lemmon's career. The young actor had already made a name for himself as the freshest, most talented comic performer in movies, especially in his work with Wilder on Some Like It Hot (1959). The Apartment was created with Lemmon in mind, and it marked his transition into the more dramatic roles that established him as one of the leading actors of his time.
It was also an important role for Shirley MacLaine. Discovered dancing on Broadway, she had been making films for about five years, mostly in light comic roles. The Apartment gave her a chance to broaden her range and establish herself as a serious actress, one whose career has spanned five decades.
by Rob Nixon
The Apartment (1960)
The Apartment was adapted into a Broadway musical, Promises, Promises, in 1968, book by Neil Simon, music by Burt Bachrach, lyrics by Hal David.
The tag line for the Tennessee Williams film Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) was "She knew she was being used for something evil." Wilder made a play on that line to promote The Apartment: "Suddenly, last winter - he knew his apartment was being used for something evil."
The theme from The Apartment, played by the piano duo Ferrante & Teicher, became a widely played radio hit.
by Rob Nixon
The Apartment (1960)
Within a short time after its release, The Apartment doubled its $3 million cost at U.S. box offices alone.
MOVIE'S ADVERTISING TAG LINE: Movie-wise, there has never been anything like it - laugh-wise, love-wise, or otherwise-wise!
Wilder received the Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1986.
The Apartment was lauded by Soviet-bloc critics as an indictment of the American system and a story that could only have happened in a capitalistic city like New York. At a dinner honoring him in East Berlin, Wilder said the movie "could happen anywhere, in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Rome, Paris, London." When Wilder said the one place it could not have happened was Moscow, the East Germans broke into thunderous applause and cheers. When the ovation died down, Wilder continued: "The reason this picture could not have taken place in Moscow is that in Moscow nobody has his own apartment." The remark was met with grim silence.
Jack Lemmon has been nominated for seven Best Actor Academy Awards, including one for his drag performance in Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959). He won for Save the Tiger (1973). He also won a Best Supporting Actor Award for Mister Roberts (1955).
Shirley MacLaine has been nominated for Best Actress five times and won for Terms of Endearment (1983). She was also nominated for her documentary feature The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir (1975).
The Apartment was the second of Jack Lemmon's seven films with Billy Wilder. He also appeared in Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959), Irma la Douce (1963, again with MacLaine), The Fortune Cookie (1966), Avanti! (1972), The Front Page (1974), and Buddy Buddy (1981).
Fred MacMurray's fan mail was overwhelmingly against his role as the no-good chief executive Sheldrake. People hated seeing the usually amiable, sympathetic actor play such a heel. The response shook him so much, he vowed never to take on another such role. He spent the remainder of his career in Disney comedies and playing the good-natured dad on the television sitcom My Three Sons.
As a journalism student at Columbia University in 1941, I.A.L. Diamond's contribution to the school's annual Varsity Show resulted in a story in the New York Times. Executives at Paramount Studios read the article and offered him a ten-week contract as a junior writer. Diamond quit school and headed to Hollywood where he began his career as a screenwriter on the B-movie comedy-mystery-musical Murder in the Blue Room (1944).
Impressed with the skits Diamond wrote for a Writers Guild dinner, Billy Wilder, who had worked with several writers since his break-up with longtime writer-producer Charles Brackett, felt he had finally found the ideal collaborator.
The hugely successful 25-year collaboration between Wilder and Diamond began with Love in the Afternoon (1957). They created a total of 12 pictures together.
The Romanian-born Diamond's real name was Itek Domnici. The I.A.L. stood for Interscholastic Algebra League, in honor of his youthful wizardry at mathematics.
MacLaine once recalled meeting an interpreter for Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev, who was in the U.S. to address the United Nations. The Russian interpreter told the actress, "The Premier sends his regards, wishes to be remembered to you, and says he's just seen your new picture, The Apartment, and you've improved."
At a party in Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe told Wilder how much she wished she could have played the part of Fran Kubelik in The Apartment (MacLaine's role).
Wilder and production designer/art director Alexander Trauner worked on eight films together.
The Hungarian-born Trauner began his career in France, where he worked on such classic films as Quai des Brumes (1938) and Le Jour se leve (1939). During the Nazi occupation of France, the Jewish Trauner was forced to work secretly and anonymously under difficult conditions, yet managed to contribute greatly to the look of such films as Les Visiteurs du soir (1942) and Les Enfants du paradis (Children of Paradise, 1945).
Memorable Quotes from THE APARTMENT
FRAN (Shirley MacLaine): Shall I light the candles?
BUD (Jack Lemmon): It's a must! Gracious living-wise.
FRAN: (explaining the cracked mirror in her compact) I like it that way. It makes me look the way I feel.
SHELDRAKE (Fred MacMurray): You see a girl a couple of times a week and sooner or later she thinks you'll divorce your wife. Not fair, is it?
BUD: No, especially to your wife.
SHELDRAKE: When you've been married to a woman 12 years, you don't just sit down to a breakfast table and say, "Pass the sugar, I want a divorce." It's not that easy.
FRAN: (crying) When you're in love with a married man you shouldn't wear mascara
BUD: That's the way it crumblescookie-wise.
FRAN: I never catch colds.
BUD: Really. I was reading some figures from the Sickness and Accident Claims Division. You know that the average New Yorker between the ages of 20 and 50 has two and a half colds a year?
FRAN: That makes me feel just terrible.
FRAN: Well, to make the figures come out even, if I have no colds a year, some poor slob must have five colds a year.
BUD: Yeah... it's me.
BUD: Miss Kubelik, one doesn't get to be a second administrative assistant around here unless he's a pretty good judge of character, and as far as I'm concerned you're tops. I mean, decency-wise and otherwise-wise
BUD: I used to live like Robinson Crusoe, shipwrecked among 8 million people, but one day I saw a footprint in the sand and there you were
FRAN: Just because I wear a uniform doesn't make me a girl scout.
BUD: You hear what I said, Miss Kubelik? I absolutely adore you.
FRAN: Shut up and deal.
Compiled by Rob Nixon
The Apartment (1960)
Billy Wilder always worked best with a script collaborator. He had created several successful films in the 1930s and 40s with Charles Brackett before they ended their association. It wasn't until the mid-50s before Wilder found another writer with mutual collaborative skills. The quiet, introverted I.A.L. Diamond had a dramatically different personality from the outgoing Wilder. But they shared a common European immigrant background, the same dry sense of humor, and an interest in many of the same themes and characterizations, such as the use of tangled webs of deception. They had two successful pictures under their belt - Love in the Afternoon (1957) and Some Like It Hot - when they started this one.
Wilder and Diamond were so impressed with Jack Lemmon's performance in their first film with the actor, Some Like It Hot, they decided in the first month of production on that picture that "this was not to be a one-shot thing with Jack. We wanted to work with him again, and while Some Like It Hot was still in the works, we got underway with the planning of another one, The Apartment."
Lemmon said he signed onto The Apartment after Wilder told him the story but before he ever saw a line of the script. "I'd have signed even if he said he was going to do the phone book," the actor noted.
"Billy's scripts are amazing," Lemmon later said. "They take a year and a half to write and everything's in them, but everything. He sees scripts. A script is to be played, not read. So if something doesn't look right in action, he'll change it."
The part of Sheldrake, the company boss having an affair with the elevator operator, had been written with Paul Douglas in mind. Two weeks before the start of production, Douglas died of a heart attack. Wilder asked Fred MacMurray, who he had directed in Double Indemnity (1944), to step into the role.
MacMurray played mostly comic and light leading man parts for most of his career. Any trepidation he may have had about playing a heel in this picture were put to rest by the fact that he had done some of his best work in a dark, serious part in Wilder's Double Indemnity.
by Rob Nixon
The Apartment (1960)
Billy Wilder gave Jack Lemmon free rein to fill in the character of C.C. "Bud" Baxter in performance. He compared the actor favorably to Charles Chaplin and thought he could do no wrong.
Wilder found Lemmon very professional and cooperative. "He has his own opinion on things, but he's not bullheaded about it," the director said.
"As I saw it, [Baxter] was ambitious; a nice guy but gullible, easily intimidated, and fast to excuse his behavior," Lemmon said of his approach to the character. "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."
Lemmon invented one of the funnier moments in The Apartment. Baxter has a bad cold from wandering the streets in the rain while an executive uses his apartment for an affair. 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, as his boss, 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. "He was beautiful; didn't say a word, just gave me a look and went right on with the scene," Lemmon said. Wilder left the take in. "With Wilder, like with Ford, the best way is to do it rather than talk about it," Lemmon explained.
Lemmon said he learned much about filmmaking from 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?"
Wilder and 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.
Wilder and Diamond deliberated for 20 minutes when Lemmon insisted he wanted to repeat the word "yes" twice.
Wilder and Diamond did not have an ending to The Apartment until the completion of shooting. They handed Lemmon and MacLaine wet mimeographed script pages 20 minutes before shooting the final scene. Quick studies, the two did the scene in one take.
Lemmon related later in life how 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.
Wilder captured the spirit of Christmas office parties - the free-flowing booze and often raucous behavior - by shooting that scene on December 23.
Wilder's sets are known to be easy-going, energetic, and full of humorous interaction. He also adds touches that cater to an actor's need for small details to make them feel secure. For instance, for MacMurray he created memo pads and stationery with his character's name on them, even though no one but the actor ever saw them.
Wilder told a story to illustrate the penny-pinching ways of Fred MacMurray, one of the wealthiest actors in Hollywood. In an important scene with MacLaine, MacMurray had to hand her a hundred-dollar bill. Wilder gave MacMurray a real bill to use. When the scene was over, MacMurray gave the money back to the director. Several minutes later, Wilder claimed the actor never returned the bill. He insisted up to the point that MacMurray, sweat pouring from his brow (according to Wilder), reluctantly opened his own wallet to pay him back. It was then Wilder confessed to the prank.
To create the effect of a vast sea of faces laboring grimly and impersonally at their desks in the huge insurance company office, designers Alexander 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.
Wilder often incorporates famous paintings into his film sets. The shot of MacLaine lying unconscious on Lemmon's bed was inspired by the composition of Rousseau's Sleeping Gypsy, which hangs in the bedroom.
Wilder and cinematographer Joseph LaShelle were occasionally at odds over the look of The Apartment. LaShelle, who had worked with directors who came primarily from television, wanted to use more close-ups, a shot Wilder prefers to avoid.
"In film making, I like the normal set-up, like Wyler uses, like John Ford, like Chaplin," Wilder once said. "I'm against this fancy stuff. It reminds an audience that artisans have intruded. I don't want them to grab their partner and say, 'My God, look at that!'"
by Rob Nixon
The Apartment (1960)
While it may be hard to imagine now, The Apartment (1960) actually shocked some moviegoers upon its initial release. The problem wasn't the central premise - an ambitious office worker performs dubious favors in exchange for career advancement - but the actual treatment of it. In the hands of writer-director Billy Wilder and his collaborator, scenarist I. A. L. Diamond, The Apartment became a razor-sharp farce that equated corporate success with immorality. Actually, filmmakers in communist Russia viewed it as an indictment against capitalism. The central character, "Bud" Baxter, is actually little more than a pimp for upper management while the girl of his dreams, elevator-operator Fran Kubelik, is a demoralized working girl whose solution to a failed love affair is to commit suicide. These are not the most wholesome characters in the world and we're talking about the hero and heroine! However, as played by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, Bud and Fran not only win the audience's sympathy but also charm them in the process. The most astonishing thing about The Apartment is how Billy Wilder manages to keep the tone light and playful while exposing the worst aspects of Manhattan corporate life, from the drunken office parties to the casual adultery committed by married employees. Despite these controversial elements, the film racked up ten Oscar nominations and won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director of 1960.
The Apartment marked the first time Shirley MacLaine had worked with Billy Wilder and she quickly discovered that her habit of occasionally improvising or changing dialogue was not welcome. For example, she delivered a wonderful take of a scene set in the company elevator but it had to be re-shot when Wilder discovered she had omitted one word of dialogue. Still, Wilder was sufficiently impressed with her acting to cast her in the lead role of Irma la Douce in 1963. The Apartment also won MacLaine her second Oscar nomination as Best Actress (the first time was for Some Came Running, 1958) and she found herself competing against Deborah Kerr, Greer Garson, Melina Mercouri, and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1960 Academy Award race. (She lost to Taylor for Butterfield 8).
Unlike MacLaine, Lemmon was already used to the way Wilder operated, having recently completed Some Like It Hot (1959) for him. In fact, Wilder developed such trust and respect for Lemmon's instinctual gifts as an actor that he gave him the freedom to improvise certain bits like the bachelor spaghetti dinner scene where Lemmon strains the pasta through a tennis racket or some physical comedy routines involving a nasal spray. Lemmon later commented, "Working with Billy I began to understand 'hooks' - those little bits of business that an audience will remember, sometimes long after they've forgotten everything else about the picture. The key was a 'hook.' For ten years after that film, people would still come up to me on the street and say, "Hey, Jack, can I have the key?"
Paul Douglas was originally cast in the role of J. D. Sheldrake, the heel who dumps MacLaine rather than end his loveless marriage. Unfortunately, Douglas died two weeks prior to production on The Apartment and Wilder coaxed Fred MacMurray to take the role. Not only was MacMurray completely convincing as the despicable company boss, his performance was so realistic it inspired an avalanche of hate mail from female moviegoers who begged him to play sympathetic roles in the future. He did just that, signing on as the amiable father figure in the popular TV-sitcom My Three Sons (1960-1972) and scoring leads in Walt Disney flicks like The Absent-Minded Professor (1961).
Director: Billy Wilder
Producer: I.A.L. Diamond, Doane Harrison, Billy Wilder
Screenplay: I.A.L. Diamond, Billy Wilder
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Editor: Daniel Mandell
Art Direction: Alexandre Trauner
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Jack Lemmon (C.C. Baxter), Shirley MacLaine (Fran Kubelik), Fred MacMurray (Jeff D. Sheldrake), Ray Walston (Joe Dobisch), Jack Kruschen (Doctor Dreyfuss).
BW-126m. Letterboxed. Close captioning.
by Jeff Stafford
The Apartment (1960)
AWARDS & HONORS
In 1994, The Apartment was chosen by the National Film Preservation Board to be preserved in the Library of Congress National Film Registry.
The Apartment won Academy Awards® for Best Picture, Director (Billy Wilder), Screenplay (Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond), Editing (Daniel Mandell), Black-and-White Art Direction/Set Decoration (Alexander Trauner, Edward G. Boyle).
Wilder became the first person to win three Oscars® in the same year.
The Apartment also received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Actress (Shirley MacLaine), Supporting Actor (Jack Kruschen), Black-and-White Cinematography (Joseph LaShelle), Sound (Gordon Sawyer).
Other awards for The Apartment include:
- Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture Comedy, Best Actor Comedy, Best Actress Comedy and a nomination for Best Director.
- British Academy Awards for Best Film from Any Source, Foreign Actor, Foreign Actress.
- Directors Guild of America Award to Wilder and Assistant Director Hal W. Polaire.
- Golden Laurel Awards (Motion Picture Exhibitors) for Top Comedy, Female Dramatic Performance, Male Comedy Performance.
- New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Film, Director, Screenplay.
- Venice Film Festival Best Actress Award.
- Writers Guild of America Award for Best-Written American Comedy.
The Critics Corner: THE APARTMENT
"Mr. Wilder has done more than write the film. His direction is ingenious and sure, sparkled by brilliant little touches and kept to a tight, sardonic line." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times, 1960
"Wilder handles his players superbly. He holds an amazingly tight rein on actress MacLaine, which gives her performance a solidity she seldom achieves. Yet it is actor Lemmon, surely the most sensitive and tasteful young comedian now at work in Hollywood, who really cuts the mustard [sic] and carries the show." - Time, 1960.
"Not to beat around the bush, The Apartment is a very funny movie that can take a place among the finest comedies Hollywood has turned out." - Newsweek, 1960
"In none of his films has Mr. Wilder come closer to a Lubitsch theme and style than he did in his brilliant The Apartment. In my estimation, it is one of the finest comedy-dramas that has ever come out of Hollywood. Here Mr. Wilder, well established and comfortably settled in with his new scriptwriter, I.A.L. Diamond, achieved that rare thing in cinema culture, a funny movie containing a serious statement. And he helped to advance Jack Lemmon, the picture's star, as one of the truly fine actors of our time." - Bosley Crowther, Reruns: 50 Memorable Films (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1978)
"The happy ending was met with surprise by some critics who did not feel that protagonists who transgressed sexually deserved to find happiness. But Wilder has created human beings, not stereotypes, and they are capable of developing some self-recognition and capacity for growth. The question the movie does not successfully answer is why five supposedly well-paid executives are so totally dependent upon using Bud's rather dingy little flat." - Anne Louise Lynch, Magill's Survey of Cinema, Series I, Vol. 1 (Salem Press, 1980)
"The movie has been photographed in widescreen black and white. The b&w dampens down any jollity that might sweep in with the decorations at the Christmas parties, bars and restaurants where the holidays are in full swing. And the widescreen emphasizes space that separates the characters, or surrounds them with emptiness. The design of Baxter's apartment makes his bedroom door, in the background just to the left of center, a focal point; in there reside the secrets of his masters, the reasons for his resentments, the arena for his own lonely slumber, and eventually the stage on which Miss Kubelik will play out the crucial transition in her life." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, July 22, 2001
"Along with Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Billy Wilder's 1960 Oscar-sweeper The Apartment elevates the workplace romance into a sublime erotica of officious addresses (the omnipresent Mister and Miss) and economic conundrum. ... The triangulation keeps its edges with on-your-toes dialogue and a fine-tuned critique of corporate culture. Lemmon navigates the line between simpering and sympathetic with nervous WASP-ish energy, George Bush, Sr. visited by the facial contortions of Jim Carrey. Most indelibly, MacLaine gives us a gamine with the whole gamut of emotions, a cursed capacity to love, and a limit to her own self-pity." - Ed Park, The Village Voice, December 25-31, 2002
Compiled by Rob Nixon