The Apartment (1960)
The Apartment stars Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred Mac Murray. It was directed, and the screenplay co-written, by Mr Billy Wilder himself. It followed on from his Some Like it Hot, and was equally successful as it was nominated for 10 Academy Awards. It won five including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing for an Original Screenplay. It was the basis for the 1968 Broadway musical Promises, Promises, and when Kevin Spacey won his Oscar for American Beauty he dedicated his win to Lemmon’s performance in The Apartment. In short, on paper it is a film beloved by critics and movie goers alike and one not to be missed.
And I would recommend it, but not perhaps for the reasons it was popular back in the 60s, but more because of what it says about the 60s and the folks that went to see a ‘comedy’ but which today seems anything but. The premise of the story is that Calvin Clifford “Buddy Boy” Baxter, played by Jack Lemmon, is just another faceless office drone in some large NYC insurance firm. For the promise of a promotion he readily allows managers to use his apartment for their extra martial liasions. Despite the inconvenience of having to vacate said apartment at all hours, “Buddy Boy” appears content with the arrangement. That is until the Personnel Director, MacMurray gets involved. And it his involvement with the elevator operator, MacLaine, that throws a wrench in the plans and makes Lemmon question the true meaning of their arrangement and what it says, or more accurately doesn’t say, about him.
So are we to take it that in the 60s Lemmon’s predicament as he is thrown out of his apartment, on a seemingly nightly basis, onto the cold and lonely streets of NY so these liars and cheats can entertain their ‘bit on the side’ in relative comfort, is humorous? Or that MacMurray’s character, a class A douchbag if ever there was one, will make you laugh? The only smile that I could engineer was a rather rueful one thanks to the scene in on Christmas morning as one minute he is the doting father and the next a cold-hearted, self-serving bastard. I think we are supposed to be sympathetic towards MacLaine, but since she is a repeat offender – she operates a bloody elevator in a busy New York city office don’t tell me she never meets any single men – it is Lemmon who draws us in. Despite the fact that yes, by being an accessory to the lying and the cheating, he is guilty by association, somehow we can forgive him. He is a bit over the top at times, as Lemmon was wont to be, but my heart still went out to him. I think in part it’s his eyes, they give him a kinda hangdog expression, that makes you think there is something just a bit pathetic about him. But in a good way. He is the original ‘nice’ guy consistently overlooked for the flashier, better looking jerks who treat people like sh**.
Still despite the lack of laughs I did find The Apartment very watchable. To class it as a comedy, well that would be a bit of a stretch. In fact it was quite depressing really. But then that’s a 2015 take on it. Perhaps, well obviously, in 1960 it was the thing to laugh at adultery, whereas the only thing I found laughable was the idea of needing a person to push the bloody floor button in an elevator. I would not however recommend spending money on it. That it won an Oscar is surprising and makes me wonder what the other nominees were? Was 1960 not a good year? If though it pops up on the tv on a cold, wet afternoon, stay tuned, if even just to check out what the mother of Downton’s Cora looked like in her hay day.