The Apartment (1960)


(director/writer: Billy Wilder; screenwriters: I.A.L. Diamond/Doane Harrison; cinematographer: Joseph LaShelle ; editor: Daniel Mandell; music: Adolph Deutsch; cast: Jack Lemmon (C.C. Baxter), Shirley MacLaine (Fran Kubelik), Fred MacMurray (Jeff D. Sheldrake), Ray Walston (Joe Dobisch), Jack Kruschen (Doctor Dreyfuss); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Billy Wilder; United Arists; 1960)

“The overlong drawn-out one-hook themed Apartment seemed a tad more bare than furnished.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A dark comedy about handling the rat race by climbing the corporate ladder any way you can. It implies that success in the capitalist arena can be equated with amoral behavior. Billy Wilder (“Sunset Boulevard”/Double Indemnity”/ “The Fortune Cookie”) brings to it his own special Lubitsch touch with some razor-sharp observations but also lets it sink into drab sentimentality. It snagged Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Editor, Script and Art Direction. Wilder works again with the instinctual Jack Lemmon, after their initial successful collaborations in the comedy hit Some Like It Hot (in their career they were to be paired together seven times). Though well-thought of for its acerbic wit and probing insights, all the characters were unsympathetic, the story was dreary and the cop-out ending sappy and not following through to where the acrid story was heading. The overlong drawn-out one-hook themed Apartment seemed a tad more bare than furnished.

C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a nebbish, lonely and ambitious insurance clerk for the giant Consolidated Life of New York, who lets four senior executives use his nearby West Side cozy apartment for their assignations in order for them to put in a word to get him promoted to be an executive. It works as he’s promoted by the head of personnel, Jeff D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), and gets his own office and a key to the executive washroom. But Sheldrake also wants a key to his apartment, so that the married man can on the sly take there his cute elevator operator girlfriend Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). The problem here is that Fran is the gal the schnook fell in love with and now the ruse that got him ahead is what stings him with his greatest pain. The demoralized Fran, a victim of Sheldrake’s wicked character, is dumped by him so he can go on with his loveless marriage and is so hurt that she attempts suicide via pills in the schnook’s pad on Christmas Eve.

The film veers between pathos and slapstick, and seems to be lost at times without a sense of taste (pimping, unethical deeds and a suicide attempt are lumped together as part of the corporate landscape and become part of the comedy routine). The hero and the heroine are not fuzzy warm characters we can really care about without having some misgivings; his forgiveness of her indiscretion in the end is supposed to make us want to believe all’s now well, but that seemed like another ruse that smacks of our hero’s weasel-like character to do or say anything to get what he wants. It left me feeling that the love story subplot was about a love that didn’t exist without strings attached, which is not the feeling that makes you feel bouncy. I didn’t find it to be one of Wilder’s best films, as many seem to believe, and think of it more as a melodrama than a comedy. It was patchy, on the one hand giving us a sharp critique through satire of corporate culture but lagging as melodrama by having its WASPish pushover hero be a simpering bundle of nerves who was more pathetic than anything else.