The Apartment Review


“The Apartment” is the kind of film that reminds me why I love movies. Even when the quality of new films reaches an all-time low, I’m not discouraged. I know there are plenty of brilliant pieces of cinema like this Billy Wilder classic to bring me out of the movie doldrums and get me excited about the film world again. The Best Picture of 1960 is the prototype for a great romantic comedy. The characters are fully formed, the situation is unique and ripe for humor, and the dialogue is sharp. Throw in three exceptional performances, and you have the makings of a real classic.

C.C. “Bud” Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is an associate at a major insurance firm in New York. He has big dreams, but he doesn’t intend to get to the top the old-fashioned way. Instead of simply working hard, Bud does favors for people in high places in return for favorable performance reviews. These favors usually entail giving them the key to his apartment so they can cheat on their wives. One day, Bud is asked to report to the office of Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), who heads up the personnel department and is the number one person you want on your side if you are looking for a promotion. Sheldrake inquires about the arrangement Bud has with the other executives and agrees to promote him if he can get in on the action. Bud has no qualms about it—at least at first. Meanwhile, Bud tries to start up a relationship with an attractive elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). He invites her to the theater with tickets he received from Sheldrake in exchange for his key, but she stands him up for a date with another man—Sheldrake. Once Bud realizes the woman Sheldrake is having an affair with is Fran, he must decide what’s more important—his career or his feelings for this woman.

The premise is very unique and much less ridiculous than most modern romantic comedies. It also allows for an examination of the workplace and what it takes to move up in the world. The humor isn’t usually laugh-out-loud (although there is one scene in which Bud needs to rearrange the apartment schedule that is hilarious). Rather, it’s funny because it shakes up our thoughts and expectations about the workplace.

“The Apartment” also features one of the best screenplays ever. Each of major characters is well-developed. None of them is completely unlikeable, but they all have their flaws. Bud is a pushover and has some demons in his past. Fran is bubbly and confident at work, but she’s needy and gets hurt very easily—too easily. Sheldrake is a scoundrel toward women, but he’s charming enough to fool us too.

The acting is top-notch. Jack Lemmon does the self-deprecating everyman better than anybody, and this is probably his example of this. He’s got a lot of heart and knows when to play scenes seriously or for laughs. Shirley MacLaine wasn’t too well-known before this film, but she became a star shortly afterward. Fran is full of light, but that light almost goes out halfway through the film. She, like Lemmon, knows exactly what the screenplay calls for her to do, and she gets a chance to show a wide range of emotions. Fred MacMurray is probably best known for his work in “Double Indemnity”—one of my all-time favorites—but here, he gives a more complicated performance. Sheldrake isn’t very likeable, but he’s not supposed to be a complete menace, and MacMurray more than pulls it off.

“The Apartment” has aged considerably well, and is remembered by most as one of the more-deserving Best Picture winners. It’s also often mentioned among Billy Wilder’s best films, along with “Sunset Blvd.” I can easily say “The Apartment” is the superior of the two pictures. It’s also one of the most pleasant, enjoyable films I’ve watched in months, and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. It’s about as good as it gets, movie-wise.

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