THE APARTMENT: The Essentials
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