#93: The Apartment [1960]

Wondering where to start with this review, I figured I should sum up The Apartment in one word and work from there: this movie is simply watchable. We laugh. We listen. We care. We laugh because Jack Lemmon is hilarious. We listen because we get an interesting insight into 1960s New York, or at least Hollywood’s take on it. We care because the characters are believable and the direction brilliant. Looks like things are coming together for the post now. You know: structure-wise.
First things first then: Jack Lemmon. He plays C. C. Baxter, an office worker whose eccentric charm is overlooked by his neighbours, his landlady, and his bosses who use his apartment for their romantic rendezvous. As my challenge assistant for this instalment, Becky, points out (below), it’s impossible not to root for the endearing chap. On a personal level, I just love that camp, self-assured comic delivery. Every line lands and every gesture is well placed. If you ask me, he was robbed of that Oscar.
Baxter’s unaffected kind-heartedness is offset against a somewhat sordid storyline, as his bosses use his apartment to meet their mistresses in secret. The main contemporary criticisms of the film were launched against the overtly sexual nature of the plot, which was astonishingly daring for the time. The significance of this comes to light in the characters which populate the story. While the peripheral figures are undefined and generic, the main characters are more pointedly average. There are no ‘larger than life’ characters here. Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) and Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), while bearing their own identities convincingly, become representatives for what The Apartment offers as common figures of society. Even Baxter, whose idiosyncrasies are a comedic focal point, is a regular guy with a shabby apartment, an image for which the director no doubt strained to achieve. The ordinariness of the characters coupled with the sheer amount of affairs suggests that The Apartment has something significant to say on the nature of sex in the early sixties. Whether it’s critical or favourable, I’ll leave you to decide.
Whilst adultery is ever in the background, mainly for comic effect, the main love triangle is never out of focus. Wilder toys with our emotions well, as is proved by the look of horror Becky and I exchanged at the climactic end scene when a gunshot is heard from behind a closed door. In that instant I realised that I really and truly cared, and I was impressed. In contrast to the devices of a director such as Tarantino, Wilder primarily uses the characters themselves to manipulate his audience. Read #98 as a comparison: as Tarantino lays hold of every cinematic strategy available, Wilder simply focuses on a damn good script and truly brilliant performances.
Tonight I decided that if a film can make audiences laugh over fifty years after its original release then it’s doing something right. An intensely watchable film, The Apartment made me happy, and is that not all we want from a Hollywood comedy?

Becky’s Summary: ‘I loved the little nuances and quirks they gave the Baxter character. They really made him loveable and you root for him right from the start because he’s so endearing. It’s odd that they also manage to get you behind the love interest, even though she is ‘the other woman’ and if we were seeing the story from, say, the wife’s perspective we would most likely hate her. Instead, we feel sorry for her because she is being led to believe that there is a future in her relationship with a married man, even after hearing she is not his first, and right until the end she is still hoping. For a film that deals with what is actually a distasteful subject, it manages to stay light and entertaining and enjoyable to watch.’

I then told Becky that she was stealing my thunder, so she offered: ‘me like film’.