Friday, July 9, 2010

No. 93: The Apartment

The Apartment (1960)

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Fred MacMurray, Shirley MacLaine

Director: Billy Wilder

Awards: 5 Oscars, including Best Picture

I’m a huge Billy Wilder fan - I’ve seen pretty much every film he’s ever made.
Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot…the list goes on and on. I only have one problem with Billy Wilder films: Fred MacMurray.

Well, let me explain that. See, I grew up watching all of MacMurray’s really
nice Disney films, like The Happiest Millionaire, and Follow Me Boys. So when I finally saw Double Indemnity, I was in shock. Nice role model Fred MacMurray playing a bad character – how could it be? I thought that was horrible, and then I saw The Apartment. Thanks, Billy Wilder. You just ruined my happy childhood.

I’m not saying
The Apartment is a bad movie – in fact, I think it’s a very, very good movie. It showcases Billy Wilder’s dark humor, and balances romance and comedy, with a touch of sadness. All three stars (Lemmon, MacLaine, and MacMurray) are perfectly cast, and plunge deep into their characters’ personalities.

C.C. Baxter (Lemmon) works at a huge insurance company and has a little secret – he allows the company’s managers to use his apartment to conduct extra-marital affairs. Baxter’s boss, the callous Jeff Sheldrake, (MacMurray) discovers the scheme, but instead of shutting it down, uses it himself to meet with his latest flame, elevator operator Fran Kubelik (MacLaine). Only one problem – Baxter’s had a crush on her forever. On Christmas Eve, Sheldrake returns to his family, and Fran’s left in the apartment. Depressed, she attempts suicide, but Baxter finds her and in the course of her recovery, realizes he loves Fran, and also realizes that Sheldrake’s only using her. Now, because of “the apartment," Baxter’s about to be promoted – but will he pick his job, or love? He picks love, and Fran picks him. Happy ending!

The movie is great because of the characters. Lemmon as Baxter displays his usual frantic neat-freakness, but brings greater emotional depth to his character then his other comedic roles. MacLaine is tear-wrenching as Kubelik, who can’t get over Sheldrake, no matter how bad he acts. And MacMurray as Sheldrake is equal parts slippery and sly – the perfect modern villain. When Billy Wilder cast the movie, he picked the best.

In short, if you like:

* Billy Wilder films

* Dark, melancholy humor

* Sarcastic and witty dialogue

* Wonderful movie references (
Grand Hotel’s playing on TV, The Music Man is in theaters…it’s fabulous.)

* Jack Lemmon straining spaghetti through a tennis racket

* Life-changing conversations over gin rummy

* A wonderful cast of Yiddish-accented characters living in Lemmon’s apartment building

…then you’ll love
The Apartment. Watch it. Really.

Coming up next, No. 92,
A Place In The Sun (1951). Yessssss! I have to admit, I love this movie, and I can’t wait to write about it. Starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, this film is an unabashed soap-opera – with a good plot and great actors. Stick around and watch it!


  1. You said it - The Apartment is not quite black comedy, but melancholy laughs to be sure.

    Double Indemnity coming up later! After that one we'll watch The Absent-Minded Professor, and feel better about ol' Fred.

  2. This is a wonderful review. You capture the problem for actors of typecasting very well. MacMurray's later roles probably boxed him in a bit from his full potential, but I shared your shock when I first saw his earlier films after seeing his Disney fare. The Apartment is one of my favorite films. It is a beautifully cast movie, and Wilder is a great director who loves each of the people we see—from the drunken people in a bar, to the doctor neighbor, to the main characters—and forms them into something complete and real.

  3. Like you, seeing Fred McMurray in Double Indemnity shocked me. It must have been very gratifying to him to play these meatier roles. He was a VERY good actor type-cast by Disney into playing parts that did not showcase his talent. Jack Lemmon is one of my all-time favorite actors. It goes without saying that Shirley MacLaine could/can handle everything from comedy to drama and romance to musicals.

    I am quite impressed with your reviewing skills. My granddaughter is 12 (and 1/2 she would require me to add) and a writer and artist. I am grateful to know that the arts will be in such talented hands when your generation takes over. I especially love that you enjoy classic movies. I look forward to your future reviews.

    {Thanks to your mother for providing the link on Twitter. She is quite talented herself.}

  4. i haven't seen this one either. I'm not a movie geek like you josie. but it sounds really good

  5. Awesome review!! I should probably go watch the movie now...

  6. This movie is one of the great comedies, and your review is marvelous, Josie.
    I grew up watching Fred MacMurray as the kindly patriarch in the sitcom My Three Sons, so I had a similar shock to yours in seeing this movie and Double Indemnity.
    But my biggest shock in seeing The Apartment was the last line of the film. For years, my father had been saying to me, "Shut up and deal," when we played gin rummy and I chattered on instead of getting down to business. When I saw this movie for the first time, at a late-night college screening, I think I literally gasped at the ending. What? My father didn't make that up?

  7. Terrific review!
    Wilder is a creative and whimsical director and I think this is one of his best - movie-wise! I loved the "spaghetti-straining-through-a-tennis racquet" scene as well.

    You are a very talented writer, Josie. I look forward to more reviews - including Double Indemnity!
    PS What about Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds"?

  8. I'm with you on the Wilder worship! A GENIUS! Such a great film, and a great post, keep 'em comin'!

  9. For you to see:

    ~Jacqui Jacoby
    Twitter: JaxJacoby