Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Directed by Billy Wilder and written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, The Apartment is the story of an ambitious office worker who begrudgingly lets his bosses use his apartment for their extramarital affairs where he ends up falling for one of his bosses mistresses. The film is an exploration into ambition and morality where a man deals with the way he tries to move up through things he didn’t like doing while falling for a woman who deals with her affairs with one of his bosses. Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray. The Apartment is a witty yet grand film from Billy Wilder.
The film is essentially an exploration into the life of an insurance office worker named C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) who hopes to climb up the ladder in becoming an executive. Yet, his loyalty and hard work isn’t enough where he reluctantly lets his managers use his apartment for their affairs which gets the attention of their boss Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) who asks Baxter if he can use his apartment for his own extramarital affair. Sheldrake’s mistress turns out to be an elevator operator named Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) whom Baxter has feelings for where he later finds out about the affair which upsets him. Yet, Fran learns during the Christmas party on that same day that she is just another of Sheldrake’s revolving door of mistresses as she is hurt where she and the lonely Baxter bond over their loneliness and the humiliation they endure.
The film’s screenplay is in some ways a character study but also a love story of sorts between Baxter and Kubelik as they’re just people dealing with working in an insurance office. Baxter is just a man who just wants to make it in that world but he often endures moments of humiliation as his superiors call him “Buddy-boy” and sometimes call when they’re not scheduled to be at the apartment. Baxter would be outside of his apartment so he wouldn’t interfere as he would return to find his place a mess and lots of hairpins and such laying around in the couch and such. Adding to this humiliation is his feelings for Kubelik whom he thinks is a nice woman yet she, regretfully, stood him up on a date where he tries to forget about it until the office Christmas party where the broken hand mirror he found in his apartment belonged to Kubelik. It’s a moment that just adds to his own loneliness and despair yet it is balanced by Kubelik’s own revelation about Sheldrake.
Kubelik is just as interesting as Baxter as she’s a woman who later admits to falling for the wrong guy as she has this secret affair with Sheldrake whom she doesn’t see often. Yet, she becomes more uncertain that he will leave his wife where she is intrigued by Baxter but is in love with Sheldrake. The Christmas party scene is one of the key important moments in the film not just because of what Baxter discovers but also what Fran discovers from Sheldrake’s secretary Miss Olsen (Edie Adams) at the party that leaves Fran hurt and humiliated. The film’s second half becomes about Baxter and Kubelik dealing with the hurt and humiliation that both had endured as they deal with the things they’ve done where it would play to some growth in their characters as well as the fact that they could become a couple. Still, Baxter tries to protect himself and Kubelik from others including his neighbor Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) who has been suspicious about what goes on at Baxter’s apartment. Yet, it would take some events and such that would finally make Baxter stand up for himself and do what he feels is right for himself and Kubelik.
Billy Wilder’s direction is very mesmerizing for the way he explores the world of corporate offices where he uses the widescreen format and wide shots to get a sense of what goes on while putting in the middle of that shot is Baxter though he’s seen among the hordes of people in their desks. The use of dolly and tracking shots allows Wilder to create a world that is very go-go-go and busy but also quite raucous at times such as the Christmas party sequence where there’s a lot of fun that goes on and Wilder also knows where to put key important characters in the frame to help advance the story and such. Even as he creates some intimate moments in the offices such as the scene between Baxter and Kubelik where he discovers who that broken mirror belongs to. It’s among these very intense dramatic moments while Wilder also infuses a lot of melancholia to these moments to showcase the humiliation that Baxter and Kubelik both endure.
While there are some moments of humor in the film that includes Baxter’s superiors acting silly on their way to the apartment with their mistresses along with moments of how Baxter reacts to his situation. There is also a mixture of melancholia in some of the comedic moments that Baxter endures such as the scene where he’s at a bar drowning his sorrows with another woman. Yet, Wilder maintains that sense of loneliness that occurs in the story as he makes Baxter’s apartment as a key character in the story where it’s a place that represents his own lonely persona. Things liven up a bit once Kubelik stays there briefly following a very intense moment that plays into the growing bond she would have with Baxter. Even as he would maintain control about what he should do with his life and his apartment as well as what he wants for Kubelik who is stuck in her love for Sheldrake as well as her bad luck with men. Overall, Wilder creates a very engaging yet triumphant film about loneliness, humility, and overcoming all of that.
Cinematographer Joseph LaShelle does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to play into the sense of despair the protagonists endure as well as the use of lights in the offices and as well as the low-key look in Baxter‘s apartment. Editor Daniel Mandell does excellent work with the editing with its use of rhythmic cuts to play out some of the film‘s drama and humor as well as sequence where Sheldrake and Kubelik are in Baxter‘s apartment as he is in the bar drowning his sorrows. Art director Alexandre Trauner and set decorator Edward G. Boyer do fantastic work with the look of Baxter’s apartment that is very intimate and sort of a mess to represent Baxter’s loneliness while the look of the offices and places where he works is also unique to display more of his sense of isolation.
The sound work of Gordon E. Sawyer is superb for capturing some of the chaos in some of the moments in the office such as the Christmas party as well as the intimate moments in Baxter‘s apartment. The film’s music by Adolph Deutsch is amazing for its somber yet flourishing score with its mixture of orchestral and jazz music to play with some of the film’s melancholia while the soundtrack consists an array of music from jazz, classical, and pop.
The film’s cast is just splendid for the ensemble that is created as it includes some notable small roles from Joyce Jameson as the woman Baxter meets at the bar after the Christmas party, Johnny Seven as Kubelik’s brother-in-law, Hal Smith as the drunk Santa Claus in the bar, Naomi Stevens as Dr. Dreyfuss’ wife, Hope Holiday as Baxter’s suspicious landlord, and Joan Shawlee as one of the mistresses of Baxter’s superiors. In the roles of Baxter’s four superiors, there’s David Lewis, Ray Walston, Willard Waterman, and David White as they each give very funny performances as men who take advantage of Baxter’s generosity in order to have fun with their mistresses. Jack Kruschen is excellent as Dr. Dreyfuss as a neighbor of Baxter who is suspicious about what goes on in Baxter's apartment as he also tells Baxter to grow up and be a man.
Edie Adams is wonderful as Sheldrake’s secretary Miss Olsen who accidentally reveals to Kubelik about Sheldrake’s previous affairs at the Christmas party as she would also play a part in trying to bring Sheldrake down over his affairs with other women. Fred MacMurray is great as Jeff Sheldrake as a man who likes to maintain control over his affairs as he is also someone who is a bit cruel to the way he treats Kubelik as he is also quite slimy towards Baxter as it’s definitely one of his finest performances.
Finally, there’s the duo of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in astonishing performances in their respective roles of C.C. Baxter and Fran Kubelik. MacLaine brings this presence that is very upbeat and playful in the way she interacts with Baxter early on though there’s a fragility to her that is just compelling as she deals with heartbreak and disappointment. Lemmon is very funny in some of his reactions but also has this melancholia that is just endearing where he has this physicality that is just amazing to watch in the way he deals with humility as well as his actions for what he’s doing. Lemmon and MacLaine have this chemistry that is just undeniable in the way they make each other laugh or bond over the pain they deal with in their loneliness as they are some of the best highlights of the film.
The Apartment is a magnificent film from Billy Wilder that includes incredible performances from Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. The film is truly an engaging and thoughtful piece on the world of loneliness and ambition that plays into the troubled morality of two people lost in their own chaos as they bond through that pain. It’s also one of the most charming and touching romantic comedies that strays from convention with characters that audiences can root for. In the end, The Apartment is an outstanding film from Billy Wilder.
Billy Wilder Films: (Mauvaise Graine) - (The Major and the Minor) - (Five Graves to Cairo) - Double Indemnity - The Lost Weekend - (The Emperor Waltz) - (A Foreign Affair) - Sunset Boulevard - Ace in the Hole - Stalag 17 - (Sabrina) - (The Seven Year Itch) - (The Spirit of St. Louis) - (Love in the Afternoon) - (Witness for the Prosecution) - Some Like It Hot - (One, Two, Three) - (Irma La Douce) - (Kiss Me, Stupid) - (The Fortune Cookie) - (The Private Lives of Sherlock Holmes) - (Avanti!) - (The Front Page) - (Fedora) - (Buddy Buddy)
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