The Apartment (1960), or Can I Hang Out At Your Place Tonight?

29 04 2009

Ah, Billy Wilder. Among his many, many accomplishments, Billy Wilder should be recognized as the king of the slightly naughty black-and-white comedies. He ruled in an era when cursing was simply not done, sex was only ever implied, and women who weren’t housewives or virtuous, virginal working girls were synonymous with hussies and sluts. But these weren’t your stock 50s cardboard cutout characters he was using; Billy Wilder was very progressive for the time in which he worked, and that fact is reflected in the intelligence of his characters and the caliber of his scripts. From Double Indemnity all the way to The Fortune Cookie, he seemed to have a sixth sense for what American audiences wanted and how they wanted it, especially their laugh-out-loud comedies. Today’s Billy Wilder film, The Apartment, is very smart if anyone cares to look a bit beneath the suface, but anyone looking too deep on the first viewing might just miss a very funny feature right before their eyes.

Jack Lemmon stars as C.C. Baxter, a wage slave at a large firm in New York City. He longs to get ahead in the business and make a name for himself in the higher offices of the building. He gets his wish, but it costs him quite a bit more than he was expecting. Four of the executives in his firm have each asked to use his apartment to bring their mistresses to for a little “wink wink nudge nudge”. Baxter, wanting ever so badly to get ahead in the firm, agrees to all of their requests. This causes him more than a little duress, especially when a personnel director gets nosy and decides HE wants a place to to “hang out” with his mistress. And things go from bad to worse when he finds himself enamored with the elevator attendant at his job, Miss Kubelik, and he has nowhere to take her with his apartment slamming all the time. Is all this craziness really worth that promotion, Baxter?!?!?!

This is a damn fine comedy. Everyone who accuses black and white of being stuffy needs to watch The Apartment. It’s virtually electrified by everyone’s enthusiasm with the project. Jack Lemmon in his prime is worth 15 Matthew McConaugheys 3.2 Richard Geres and 572 Ashton Kutchers in Leading Man Currency (patent pending). He plays Baxter with the nervous energy we all feel on a first date or the day after an employee review at work. Shirley MacLaine is quite the looker here as Miss Kubelik, who plays the sexy elevator girl with that extra depth that MacLaine became famous for in her later years. Fred MacMurray is the personnel director Mr. Sheldrake, and he just oozes the slimy charm that comes naturally from anybody who works on a floor higher than 18 in a New York office building. He is unabashedly evil, and he’s not apologizing to anyone. That makes for a bad boss, but an awesome villain for the story.

The great part about this is that I can actually picture this happening. Wilder came across an idea that is just so sleazy it somehow works as a comedy. The reality is that this was common practice in a day where every man making over a certain amount had a girl on the side to keep him warm during those “long hours at the office”. It can’t be said that Baxter is necessarily innocent, though. He IS putting up with all this for a measly promotion, and even when he gets the promotion he still allows it to go on. Would you let four executives make a mess of your bed for a promotion? Either way, it’s a great concept for a concept-driven comedy. Discuss in the comments section. I would say yes, because its hard for me to say no to people (plus, it’s money for nothing and I’m such a layabout)

Everyone has their favorite scene from this movie, so I’ll tell you mine. I don’t know why this tickles me so much, but when Baxter and Kubelik are having some light conversation, this little piece of dialog comes up (picture Jack Lemmon schmoozing it up with all his might):

Kubelik: I never catch colds.

Baxter: Really? I was reading some figures from the Sickness and Accident Claims Division. You know that the average New Yorker between the ages of twenty and fifty has two and a half colds a year?

Kubelik: That makes me feel just terrible.
Baxter: Why?
Kubelik: Well, to make the figures come out even, if I have no colds a year, some poor slob must have five colds a year.
Baxter: Yeah… it’s me.

I love it! I don’t know why. He’s such a likable guy, you almost forget he’s been sleeping on wet sheets for the past couple months.

You need to see this film. It’s a classic; it won an Oscar for Best Picture, if you don’t believe me! The Academy is never wrong (cue laugh track)! Seriously, though, I smiled a lot in this fun-filled 120 minutes. I didn’t completely burst at the seams, mind you, but I don’t know if I was supposed to. Billy Wilder, you mensch, you gave the world yet another superb piece of film-making with this one, and I’ll appreciate it for as long as I and the rest of the world will miss you. You’ll get a lot more than you bargained for with The Apartment; I know I did. I give it 8 1/2 superior leading men out of 10.

Whoo!!! Now that I’m all caught up, tomorrow I’m giving myself a little break by watching one of my favorite movies for the PSA; a film that everyone needs to see for the costumes alone! I’ll be back tomorrow with Spinal Tap!

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