Home is where the heart is
The Apartment is a 1960 rom-com starring Jack Lemmon. Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray, and is directed by Billy Wilder (Some Like it Hot). The film won five Academy Awards.
C.C. "Bud" Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a kind, but rather lonely bachelor who works a tedious desk job at a national insurance corporation in a New York high-rise building. Bud gets along well with his co-workers, and he hopes to climb up the corporate ladder and land a better position. He earns the approval of four different company managers because Bud allows these managers to borrow his Upper West Side apartment on various nights for their own extramarital needs (a.k.a pleasures). Bud's neighbors are upset over how noisy that his apartment is every night, and they all assume that Bud is bringing various women home each night. Bud has his eye on elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), but it turns out that Fran is together with the company's personnel director, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). As Bud moves up the corporate ladder, he becomes more acquainted with Sheldrake, until he must run the risk of losing his job or the girl of his dreams.
Admittedly, I am rather flustered in how to describe my exact feelings for The Apartment. It might be because the context in which I watched the film was not the most desirable; it was a lazy Wednesday afternoon in which my energy level was not in peak form, yet I refused to let myself doze off. That being said, I never found The Apartment to be straight-up boring, though I know I did not feel wholly satisfied when it was over. Thinking it over for a little while, I think I have put together a cohesive string of thoughts to summarize my overall perception of The Apartment and if I liked it or not. Here's how I would put it: it's a film that can be appreciated for its individual moments.
There are a lot of noteworthy individual moments throughout the film. One of my favorites is how the film makes reference to two previous Best Picture winners: Grand Hotel and The Lost Weekend (the latter also being directed by Wilder). Jack Lemmon is sitting on his apartment couch eating dinner and is about to start watching Grand Hotel. However, the channel keeps cutting away to messages from TV sponsors. One of Baxter's co-workers assumes that Baxter and Fran had a "lost weekend" together. There is another moment in which director Billy Wilder seemingly takes a shot at Marilyn Monroe, who he considered to be a major headache on the set of Some Like it Hot. One character meets a blonde woman and says that she looks like Monroe, and she comes off as a "dumb-blonde".
Why then, do I not give the film two thumbs up when looking at as a whole? It's because not all of its characters won me over, and its blending of satire and romance is slightly off-kilter. The film's opening narration is Baxter telling us a little bit about himself, and that he likes to stay overtime just to "kill time", especially if the weather is bad. His desk is only one among a sea of desks that are aligned in such massive rows that they seem to disappear off the frame. Baxter goes for an unconventional approach in attempting to rise up through the company ranks. He promises his apartment to the company's big honcho managers in exchange for raving reviews. It's about as satirical as the film gets by making fun of typical business practices and the widespread belief that hard work and dedication are how you get ahead in business. The satire is highlighted by a scene of Baxter making back and forth phone calls with the managers, attempting to resolve a scheduling conflict. Once Fran Kubelik enters the picture, the satire is dropped in exchange for romance. This is not a Disney-style romance, though, where everything ends with a happy ever after. Baxter and Fran don't get married or share a passionate kiss by the end of the film. Baxter tells Fran that he loves her, to which Fran looks at Baxter and, with a smile, says, "Shut up and deal" as the two are about to begin a game of gin rummy. We can fill in the blanks from this point.
- Jack Lemmon. He delivers a strong performance that earned him his second Best Actor nomination (the other being for Some Like it Hot). Lemmon wasn't the biggest name in Hollywood in 1960, but he would eventually move his way up to an A-list star. Kevin Spacey acknowledged Lemmon's performance in this movie many years later during his Best Actor award speech for American Beauty. The straightforward and humble man that was C.C. Baxter was a type of role that Lemmon would always be remembered for.
- Wilder's direction. It is top-notch and well-deserving of the Best Director Oscar. Wilder had always been an advocate for sharp writing and memorable dialogue, and he made sure to bend the film in just the right way so as to bring the best out of the talent that the likes of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine had to offer. Some might be turned away by Wilder's supposed cynicism, but I cannot say I saw any of that in this film.
- Fred MacMurray. He received a lot of heat for portraying a villainous role because he had been known for being a friendly and compassionate actor beforehand. My problem is that MacMurray plays the character of Sheldrake like a hardened, emotionless boss who is selfish enough to not have any emotional inflections or sense of sympathy for other characters, particularly Kubelik. Now, it's standard for villains to be selfish, greedy jerks, but MacMurray sounds heavily monotone throughout the film, and I just could not buy into his performance for the life of me. That might be an underlying reason as to why I wasn't head over heels about The Apartment; a movie is only as good as its villain, and the "villain" in The Apartment is so-so at best.
This movie has the feel of one of those romance-centered Best Picture winners from the late 1930s and early 1940s like Casablanca or You Can't Take It With You, mainly because of how it utilizes the black-and-white style that many earlier Best Picture winners took on. It's worth mentioning that this would be the last Best Picture winner to be in black and white until Schindler's List over thirty years later. The film is not bad. Not at all. It's that I had a rather hard time feeling fully engaged with it, largely because the film confusingly wants to be satirical during some parts and then pure romance during other parts. Jack Lemmon delivers a strong performance, as does Shirley MacLaine. Fred MacMurray, not so much. There are plenty of little moments to remember, and that's the best way for me to recommend The Apartment.
Recommend? It's worth watching for some memorable moments. I wouldn't call it a must-see, though.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: