‘Movie-wise, there has never been anything like “The Apartment” love-wise, laugh-wise or otherwise-wise!’ This bold claim was featured on the films original poster in 1960, and is very much true. In fact this overly confident marketing strategy continued with the films theatrical trailer, which informed the audience ‘How to make a very special kind of motion picture’. The trailer goes on to read a list of ‘ingredients’ briefly explaining the films unique selling qualities. Despite calling them ingredients, the story, the cast and Billy Wilder’s direction really are the stand out qualities that The Apartment delivers.
Jack Lemmon plays C.C Baxter, a lonely office worker who works on the 19th floor of an insurance company. But his goal is to reach the 27th floor where he can become an executive and have a city view office next door to the boss himself Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). Alongside this, Baxter is slowly making his move on elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) whom has her own problems, which we explore in the film. To get to the top however it doesn’t take his intelligence or his hard working attitude, all it takes is his apartment. Located on the Upper West Side of New York City, Baxter allows his company managers to use his apartment for their own personal needs – in other words to commit adultery. In return the managers write-up references for Baxter – noting how trustful, reliable and bright he is. Baxter’s life starts to turning round (sort of) when Sheldrake finds out about the apartment and he bargains with Baxter – the use of the apartment for the promotion. Only what Baxter doesn’t know is that the ‘lucky-girl’ that Sheldrake is taking back to his apartment is in fact Fran Kubelik.
The cast of The Apartment is stellar. Stand out performance being Lemmon, who is terrific as Baxter with his charm and naturalness to the character presenting him as the everyman that audiences can relate to. Shirley MacLaine delivers a great performance as Fran Kubelik presenting her as an incredibly fragile minded character that brilliantly bounces off Lemmon’s Baxter and in doing so, we whiteness a charming on-screen relationship – a kind of on-screen relationship that we don’t get to see in modern romantic comedies. Fred MacMurray is also great as Jeff Sheldrake – a family man who only cares about his ‘labido’. A performance that gets under-looked is Jack Kruschen as Dr. Dreyfuss – the unexpected hero that delivers the films integral message as well as a solid performance as Baxter’s next-door neighbor who is furthermore the catalyst of most of the films laughs.
The musical score fits perfectly with the films atmosphere and even to the point that it creates themes for the characters adding more depth to their lives in which we are exploring. A great point to mention is the choice not to shoot The Apartment in Technicolor. The black and white photography not only compliments the art-direction, but also conveys the dark themes that the film wants to convey – an almost film noir tone of atmosphere. The camera itself is very posed and simple giving us a relaxing viewing experience – letting us take in everything we see.
The Apartment’s heart resides within the environment that Billy Wilder creates through his art of writing. Co-written with I.A.L. Diamond, the script is incredibly descriptive but not to the extent where you become bored. The opening scene of the film perfectly introduces C.C Baxter as an everyday man with a voice over of his life leading to where he is now. In the space of two minutes we become completely attached to his character and the ‘man power’ environment in which he is trying to survive in. As with most of Wilder’s films, the dialogue is smart, snappy and witty with some small improvisations in between (mainly by Lemmon) to capture an even more real environment. One scene for example involves Baxter having to call the all managers who use his apartment so he can book himself a slot (in his diary) to his own apartment so he can rest off a cold.
However unlike his previous and possibly most recognized achievement Some Like it Hot (1959), The Apartment delivers so much more than a comedy – we are given a character(s) driven story in which look deeper into their minds and morals of being a human being – or as Dr. Dreyfuss says “a mensch”. Without given any plot details away, Wilder brilliantly sets up the story and the characters to a point where we can feel comfortable with the environment until all of a sudden we have a perfectly constructed twist which leads us into (for its time) one of the most powerfully, disturbing scenes in cinema. By breaking our comfort zone, Wilder completely awakens our eyes to the horrors of a situation that audiences had never seen before in film before and to the extent we become even more attached to characters. In short - The Apartment is incredibly well written and bravely tackles themes that no other film would dare to do making it one of the most controversial films at the time.
So there we have the ingredients laid out in front of us. Was it a winning a formula? Winning five Oscars, including Best Director and Best Writing, The Apartment was the last black and white photographed film to win the Best Picture nod until this year’s The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius). Despite this title change, The Apartment is a classic that remains today not only a remarkable film, but as one of the greatest films ever made that is still incredibly fresh by today’s standards. It’s very hard to look at today’s cinema and compare it with The Apartment – and that’s the point, no one makes films like The Apartment anymore – like its original poster claimed ‘there has never been anything like The Apartment’. In short - it’s a one of a kind.