Monday, January 13, 2014

The Apartment (1960)

It's good to see the Academy Awards found room to honour this very fine film by Billy Wilder.

In a recent review, I lamented not even a single Oscar nomination - let alone a win - for John Ford's The Searchers featuring John Wayne in a career performance.

But The Apartment was definitely recognized at the 1961 Academy Awards. This comedy/drama won five trophies, including nods for picture, director and writing.

It's interesting to watch The Apartment now in a world where friends with benefits are touted - a sexual relationship, but no long-term commitment.

Women are largely used, and tossed aside, for the pleasure of business executives in The Apartment.

C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is one of many thousands of life insurance company employees in New York City. He has made his apartment available for his superiors' trysts for about a year. There's no suggestion Baxter has any moral qualms about what he's doing. Maybe he wants to get ahead. Maybe he's afraid of what will happen if he refuses to act as host. His plans and concerns are routinely ignored by his bosses ready for some time with their respective mistresses. He stays late at work - not so much because he's that dedicated, but his apartment is in use. That means nights with little sleep and the poor health that results.

In insurance terms, Baxter's bosses have transferred the risk of their affairs to him. He's the one who has to deal with neighbours who complain about the noise and his apparent constant stream of girlfriends. A Christmas office party also reminded me of a similar scene from a first-season episode of Mad Men. A woman does a striptease. Couples make out in offices and in common areas. How many of these folks are cheating on their spouses?

Baxter's life is challenging enough with balancing different requests for his apartment. Things get even trickier when he falls for elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). She's the latest short-term conquest for Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), another bigwig with Consolidated Insurance. Jeff wants her back. Fran really loves Sheldrake, but is despondent when she learns plenty of other girls have shared his affections over the years. His proclamations - I love you, I want you back - are part of a well-oiled machine of using and dumping women. Kubelik ponders suicide. "He doesn't give a damn about me," she realizes at one point. "I was jinxed from the word go."

Baxter's room service earns him a promotion from his bosses, but the support of folks like Joe Dobisch (Ray Walston) is largely conditional on his not making any waves. He'll stir things up if he decides to pursue Kubelik for himself.

The performances in this film are great. The script is exceptional. Watch this film.

RATING: 10/10

FUN FACTS: Naomi Stevens, who appears as Baxter's next door neighbour, appeared as Mama Rossini in Fred MacMurray's television series, My Three Sons. Her screen husband, Jack Kruschen, was nominated for best supporting actor for his work in The Apartment.

Fred MacMurray made some fine films, including Double Indemnity. It's too bad his last film credit was 1978's killer bee movie, The Swarm.

Hope Holiday appears briefly as Mrs. Margie MacDougall, a woman Baxter meets when he hits a bar on Christmas Eve. It's one of just 28 acting credits for Holiday.

Wilder Times Kevin Lilly offers some interesting insight into The Apartment. Interesting facts include:
- Wilder's idea for the film began after seeing David Lean's Brief Encounter.
- The office scene where Lemmon toils on the 17th floor of Consolidated Life was shot on the same soundstage as part of Porgy and Bess.
- Wilder tweaked his story when he learned Shirley Maclaine knew how to play gin rummy from her association with the Rat Pack.
- United Artists suggested Groucho Marx play Dr. Dreyfuss.

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