The Apartment (MGM, 1960) D: Billy Wilder, w/ Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine. Rating: NNNNN; DVD package: NNNN
The Apartment launched Jack Lemmon as a romantic lead, took Shirley MacLaine to A-list stardom and picked up five Oscars, including best picture, director and screenplay. Quite the accomplishment for a romantic comedy that looks like a film noir, features a suicide attempt in the middle and has a weaselly little corporate climber as its hero.
Lemmon plays Baxter, the climber, oiling his way into the executive suite by letting the VPs use his apartment for their adulterous affairs. Not a nice fellow, Baxter, yet Lemmon makes him both understandable and likeable in a comic performance that never sacrifices humanity to laughs. MacLaine manages the same balancing act with her tough-minded elevator operator who nevertheless is screwing Baxter’s reptilian boss and lying to herself that it’s true love.
Though Wilder makes good use of the cinemascope frame and richly shadowed noir lighting to give weight to his characters’ dilemmas, he believed he’d lose the audience if they started noticing shots at the expense of the story. It’s one of many Wilder remarks on writing and directing that historian Bruce Block cites in his commentary.
Another one is “Hide your plot points.” Wilder does. It’s a seamless, flowing script, and Block’s discussion of Wilder’s devices is a high point in a commentary that otherwise spends too much time fetishizing the office set. Granted, it’s nifty, but enough already.
Extras Historian commentary, making-of doc, Lemmon doc. Widescreen, b&w. English mono or 5.1, French, Spanish audio. English, Spanish subtitles.