The Apartment (1960)
On Wednesday, December 4th, Movies at Mothers returns when we present 1960’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Billy Wilder’s classic tale of sex, love, ambition and suspicious neighbors, The Apartment, starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray.
Bachelor, C.C. “Buddy” Baxter (Jack Lemmon) lives up to his nickname by making his cozy apartment available to a cadre of philandering middle managers at the insurance firm where he works as a low level accountant. The perennial promise of promotion from his superiors is enough for Buddy to stay late at work, deceive his neighbors into thinking him a relentless playboy, and occasionally spend a cold autumn night on a park bench. It all proves worthwhile when news of his generous nature reaches the head of his division, Mr, Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), who also has “a little something on the side” and requires a discreet location to carry on. Soon Buddy is promoted and given his own office; a status that will hopefully turn the head of the charming-but-preoccupied elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), for whom he has long carried a torch. Unfortunately, Fran is far from available as she is in the throes of an affair with Mr. Sheldrake, conducted of late in Buddy’s apartment.
Following the runaway success of Some Like It Hot (1959), Billy Wilder knew he had found the perfect screen Everyman in Jack Lemmon. An amazingly charismatic actor with the ability to effortlessly transition between comedy and tragedy, its really impossible to imagine any other actor of his generation playing Buddy Baxter. Neither especially handsome, nor comical in appearance, Lemmon simply had an “open” face. He was possessed of a kind of transparent honesty to which anyone could relate. Similarly, Shirley MacLaine’s magnetic presence proves nearly hypnotic. Much like her character of Ginny Moorehead in Vincent Minnelli’s Some Came Running (For which she received her first Academy Award nomination) she manages to parlay her pixie-like charm and vulnerability into a uncannily naturalistic portrayal. Rounding out the trio of memorable performances is Fred MacMurray with whom Wilder had worked with before quite successfully in Double Indemnity(1944). Much like his portrayal of Lt. Tom Keefer in The Caine Mutiny(1954) MacMurray is able to use his regular guy likability to mask a self serving and ultimately amoral cad.
Wilder chose a wide screen, black and white approach to the look of The Apartment which proved a winning decision. The scenes in the vast accounting pool where Buddy works when we first meet him are particularly well served by Joseph LaShelle’s (Laura, Where The Sidewalk Ends) anamorphic cinematography and were likely an influence on Orson Welles’ The Trial (1962) and Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967). Through the occasional use of low key lighting there is a vaguely noir-ish quality to many scenes, reminding us that Buddy’s world, while on the surface the stuff of classic farce, could easily slip into tragedy at a moment’s notice. Much credit should also be given to Wilder’s long time writing partner, I.A.L. Diamond who, it has often noted, brought enormous humanity to Billy Wilder’s notoriously cynical screenplays.
The excitement begins at 6:30 when you will enjoy one of the best dinners in town, followed by the screening at 7:00 PM. Hope to see you there!