I’d forgotten Billy Wilder’s forever brilliant The Apartment was a perfect seasonal movie for those of us isolated types looking for a lift as well as anyone else who has cold and loathsomely lonely winters. Granted, the first time I saw it (I think I was maybe 10 or 11), I was too young to understand much of what was going on. During these darker days as I age none too gracefully, Jack Lemmon is sort of my spirit animal, so this five Academy Award-winning film has become a personal favorite.
Poor C.C. Baxter (or “Bud” to some) toils away at his data collection job at a huge New York City insurance firm, often keeping late hours with no overtime thanks to his nearby apartment being used as a hot spot for a trio of philandering company executives, Mr. Dobsich (Ray Walston), Mr. Eichelberger (David White), and Mr. Vanderhoff (Willard Waterman). Baxter is hoping to climb the corporate ladder a bit faster by doing this (yes, he even has a calendar to keep track of who gets his place and when). But he’s also so accommodating that he even cleans up afterwards and takes suggestions from his cheating superiors such as restocking his liquor supply and buying cheese crackers without asking for a dime in return. Things get even more complicated after the big boss Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) gets wind of Baxter’s bachelor pad and dangles a big promotion over his head if he can get access to the place for his own affair. Baxter agrees to the trade, but finds out that Sheldrake is romancing Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), the cute elevator girl he’s been chatting up.
Fran has no clue Baxter is smitten, but she’s also not keen on Sheldrake thanks to him insisting a few times he’s willing to leave his wife and kids for her. They had a fling a few months earlier and Fran considers it over and done for the most part. But she’s also too fragile not to fall a bit for Sheldrake’s smarmy charms which results in the most roundabout manner of she and Baxter inevitably colliding into what looks like a real relationship with two flawed people making a seemingly perfect couple. Well, that’s the short version. The longer one is Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond along with the cast and crew ended up creating an enduring classic that, especially seen today is still pretty potent. Performances are all around stellar, but Lemmon and MacLaine are the focal points with each displaying identifiable quirks and insecurities that home.
Just watching them work throughout this film is amazing. Lemmon’s head bobbing to his calculating device’s beat, his straining of pasta through a tennis racket and all his interactions with his superiors reveal an actor so in charge of his craft that he comes off as just a normal guy with a rather abnormal problem. MacLaine plays Fran as a good egg with an edge. She’s not the good girl Baxter thinks she is, but she’s also vulnerable and plays her scenes with layers of depth far beyond the other women in the film. On one of the special features, it’s noted that Wilder and Diamond wanted every actor to stick to the script and there was zero wiggle room for improvisation. Yet, Lemmon manage to fit in a sight gag with a bottle of eye drops that was left in because it made everyone on set laugh, the director included.
It’s hard to describe what sort of film this is in this day and age of pigeonholed genres and too many films getting lousy remakes, but I guess comedy/drama works well enough if you need to categorize. There are plenty of laughs, but also an undertone of sadness as we watch Baxter get what he wants before deciding it’s not the job that makes the man at all. Fran is also longing for something other than grabby, desperate, and wealthy losers. But it takes an even more desperate act for her to see she’s neither worthless nor immune to actual romance. Interestingly, shortly after a key scene, Baxter reveals a secret about his own past that’s shocking and amusing while also setting up the part of the ending where Fran delivers a simple response to his fully opening up to her about his feelings.
As I haven’t seen the MGM Blu-Ray version from 2012 (unless TCM has been showing it and I wasn’t paying attention), the new Arrow Academy restoration is probably going to be the go-to version for a while. Using a combination of digital and standard restoration techniques, the film looks phenomenal all cleaned up for higher resolution 4K sets. Wilder’s command of the camera with each scene framed and shot in his distinctive style may have made his actors uncomfortable, but the results speak for themselves. One throwaway shot made me laugh out loud, but it’s because I’d managed to miss it the every time I saw this film. After Sheldrake fires his secretary and his wife finds out she’s been cheating on her, we get a blink and you’ll miss it shot of the replacement hired: a older woman who looks like someone’s grandma working the desk.
I guess that wasn’t a “throwaway” shot after all.
Anyway, yeah – this one’s a buy and I’d bet a penny it might become a holiday favorite of yours, too. While I only got a screener disc with the film and special features, those of you who want a fantastic library edition can grab the Limited Edition that adds in a nice hardbound book and that collectible packaging Arrow is known for.
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• Limited Deluxe Edition Blu-ray [3000 copies]
• Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
• Original uncompressed PCM mono audio
• Optional 5.1 remix in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio
• Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Audio commentary with film producer and historian Bruce Block
• New appreciation of the film and select scene commentary by film historian Philip Kemp
• The Flawed Couple, a new video essay by filmmaker David Cairns on the collaborations between Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon
• Billy Wilder ABC, an overview by David Cairns on the life and career of the filmmaker, covering his films, collaborators and more
• New interview with actress Hope Holiday
• Inside the Apartment, a half-hour “making-of” featurette from 2007 including interviews with Shirley MacLaine, executive producer Walter Mirisch, and others
• Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon, an archive profile of the actor from 2007
• Original screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond (BD-ROM content)
• Theatrical trailer
• Special collector’s packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Ignatius Fitzpatrick
• Collector’s 150-page hardcover book featuring new writing by Neil Sinyard, Kat Ellinger, Travis Crawford and Heather Hyche, generously illustrated with rare stills and behind-the-scenes imagery
Score: A (95%)
Review copy provided by the publisher