The Apartment: Collector’s Edition
February 9, 2006
The Apartment (1960) features the misadventures of C.C. “Bud” Baxter (Lemmon), an anonymous office drone working at a large insurance company in New York City. He loans out his apartment several nights a week to his bosses and their dates in the hopes of getting a promotion. These extracurricular activities certainly don’t endear him with the neighbors but he’s gotten himself into a situation that he can’t get out of for fear of getting fired. Bud is at his wit’s end and is tired of being a doormat for these uncaring executives to walk all over.
The bright spot in his otherwise miserable existence is the daily banter with Fran Kubelik (MacLaine), the best elevator operator in the office building where he works and whom he secretly pines for. Bud finally gets a meeting with J.D. Sheldrake (MacMurray), head of the personnel department. He thinks that it means a promotion, which it does, but Sheldrake is like all the other executives that Bud deals with – he just wants to use the apartment. However, Sheldrake’s date is Fran, much to Bud’s dismay. These three people form a rather unlikely love triangle as Bud has to get his priorities straight – what’s more important to him: Fran or his job?
Nobody does neurotic desperation quite like Jack Lemmon who plays Bud as a bundle of frayed nerves. He does a good job conveying how the increasing demands of loaning out his apartment are taking its toll on Bud’s mental and physical well-being. Wilder conveys this through moments like the shot of a miserable and lonely Bud sitting on a park bench during a cold, windy night or the shot of Bud waiting outside a theater alone for Fran who will never meet him for that night’s show. As a result, your heart really goes out to Lemmon’s tragic character.
On the surface, Fran is a bubbly, vibrant personality but underneath the surface, Shirley MacLaine reveals a deeply unhappy woman. Fran is involved with a married man that continually disappoints her and doesn’t really love her. MacLaine not only has excellent comic timing and a knack for rattling off witty dialogue with the best of them, she also excels at the darker aspects of the film, like how Fran swallows her hurt feelings in front of Bud. She acts pleasant towards him but how Fran really feels is conveyed in MacLaine’s eyes. She delivers a heartbreaking performance that is almost painful to watch at times.
Fred MacMurray was known mostly for playing decent characters in various films and television shows but director Billy Wilder was unafraid to cast him against type in films like Double Indemnity (1944) and The Apartment where he plays the thoroughly unlikable Sheldrake, a man who wants to have his cake and eat it too. You hate MacMurray’s character for how cruel he is to Fran, stringing her along with pipe dreams of divorcing his wife and running off with Fran – something he has no intention of doing.
Like many of Wilder’s comedies, The Apartment has a dark underbelly in sharp contrast to the madcap antics but perhaps this film is a little darker than the others. It’s a romantic comedy set during the Christmas holidays but one that is infused with moments of sadness and tragedy, featuring two deeply unhappy people that could find happiness with each other if only they could free themselves from their messy personal and professional lives.
MGM has delivered a nearly flawless transfer on Blu-Ray that really shows off the textured black and white cinematography making this worth the upgrade from DVD.
Film historian Bruce Block provides an informative audio commentary that mixes filming anecdotes with an in-depth analysis of the style of The Apartment and how Wilder’s composition of the frame, including placement of actors, influences our empathy towards their characters. Block also quotes from the screenplay on this solid track.
“Inside The Apartment” features the likes of actress Shirley MacLaine, executive producer Walter Mirisch and others reflecting on the making of Wilder’s film and its enduring legacy.
Also included is “Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon,” a 30-minute featurette that is a touching tribute to the great thespian from the likes of actor Peter Gallagher, director James Foley and his son, Chris. They all recount wonderful anecdotes about Lemmon that illustrate what an honest, generous man he was both professionally and personally.