Title The Apartment
Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray
Director Billy Wilder
Writer(s) Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
Genre Romance Comedy Drama
Release Date September 16, 1960
Filming Location USA
Parental Guidance PG-13
IMDB Rating 8.3
Synopsis: C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) works as a Premium Accountant at a top insurance company in New York City trying to work his way up the ladder. He is also a man who can’t say no to his superiors who all take advantage of his Buddy-Boy goodwill to use his apartment with the myriad of women they are having affairs with. In exchange, they put in a good word with the Big Boss Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) in the staff review. Sheldrake, in turn, also takes Baxter for a ride in exchange of a promotion scheduled in the coming month. Unfortunately, this time the other woman is the Elevator Girl Miss Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), on whom Baxter has had a crush on for ages. Miss Kubelik is truly in love with Sheldrake and is duped into believing that he will soon be out of his bad marriage to marry her. When things come to blow, Baxter finds Miss Kubelik in his apartment after she consumes too many sleeping pills, a situation he must rectify to avoid jail as well as heartbreak.
Experience: It’s one of those romantic comedies that hits you where it counts. I came to know about it when MacLaine’s acting in the movie received an honorary mention at this year’s Oscars by Charlize Theron as her inspiration for joining Hollywood. MacLaine was certainly charming in the film, delivering her self-deprecating dialogues with deadpan humor. Her pixie look was just what is required for the small-town naiveté of her role, which she fulfills with subtlety. However, it was Lemmon’s performance that had me regaled.
This was one of those movies where the protagonist is utilized in nearly every frame and Lemmon proves his stamina for the role. His happy-go-lucky attitude is undercut with frustration at just the right level to evade the perception of his superiors. He does not try to portray a better character than his role demands, which is just a chump trying to make it big in the corporate arena and is not immune to corruption himself. For much of the movie, he is aware of being “taken” by his coworkers but he is not a moralizing fool. He can take care of himself when necessary. We can’t like him if we put on a holier-than-thou air and must allow him time to prove his mettle in his own time, which he also does with poignancy. With refined expressions, Lemmon gently tugs the heartstrings for this comic anti-hero. The catch is that eventually, he must forgo his self-serving goodwill with the Big Boss to become our damsel’s champion and the audience can well feel his panic.
Playing the villain, MacMurray also does not complicate his screen presence. He assumes a reflective quality as the Big Boss taking advantage of his junior by using his apartment while having extra-marital affairs. The role of Sheldrake is one who does not want to come off as the bad guy and, for the most part, does not think he is a bad guy. MacMurray steps in and out of the limbo between selfish actions and self-justifications with the quick pace required of a dramedy.
The screenplay is written with aplomb and directed superbly. It is fast-paced and gets right to the heart of the matter with quick scene shifts that do not undermine the ethos of the story. For all purpose, it is a romantic comedy with a backdrop of drama. We see a degenerate world where the sanctity of marriage is abandoned by the whole corporate society and wonder how any love affair is to flourish in such a surrounding. But then we also see a family present to guide the derailed and weary back to the light. Even amidst the drama, comedy is not forsaken to remind us of the promise of a happy ending.
Recommendation: Of course it should be watched! Once, twice, own the DVD. This is the stuff of classic romantic comedy, lovely from beginning till end.