Sunday, March 6, 2011

Classic Throwback: The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)

The Apartment was an an immediate classic, and destined to remain that way. Billy Wilder is such a brilliant filmmaker, capable of making films across multiple genres with an ability to draw almost any emotion from his audience. Winner of five Academy Wards (including Best Picture), The Apartment is both a hilarious satire about corporate businessmen and the affairs that fill their lives, and a moving drama about individualism and living a life free from the influence of others. C. C Baxter (Jack Lemon) is a man with a great apartment and dreams of rising the New York corporate business ranks. When his bosses, mostly greedy self-serving scumbags, become aware of his social hot spot, he grants them access to stage secret extramarital liaisons, and they repay him with glowing reports that spur his quick jump through the corporate ranks. While Baxter isn't pleased with the situation, he chooses not to challenge their requests and struggles to juggle on his schedule their conflicting demands.

When Baxter falls for his bosses' most recent mistress, the sweet and funny elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), his life becomes complicated as he struggles to not only win the girl but keep his cushy promotion. There are many tragic sequences. One notable example is when Baxter is given two tickets to a Broadway musical from Mr Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) to ensure he is absent from his apartment. He asks Fran to accompany him, but she had already agreed to a liaison with Sheldrake at Baxter's apartment, which unknown to Baxter, results in him being stood up. In the Christmas Eve sequence we cut between Fran in Baxter's apartment eying off his sleeping pills, while a depressed Baxter sits in a bar, knowing that Sheldrake is bedding the girl he loves, and finds himself being picked up by a woman who is just as sad and lonely as he is.

The film tackles some pretty strong themes, drawing controversy on initial release due to its promotion of infidelity and adultery. While also addressing themes of prostitution, blackmail and urban alienation, a large part of the film is devoted to Baxter's care for Kubelik in his apartment after her near-successful overdose on sleeping pills. Quite a serious story arc for a film distributed as a comedy. Wilder's wonderful screenplay, which was a working collaboration with Izzy Diamond, treads a fine line between comedy and tragedy, sparking both hysterics and pathos from its audience. Jack Lemmon is such a likable performer and he brings brilliant energy to this role, where his fast talking and quirky mannerisms work beautifully. Shirley MacLaine, like Lemmon, won a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for her fine performance. Fred MacMurray is also great as Mr Sheldrake, Baxter's scheming boss. Widely regarded as one of the greatest black comedies of all time, The Apartment is glorious entertainment, and sure to be a hit for any lover of cinema.

My Rating: 5 Stars

No comments:

Post a Comment