Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis, Hope Holiday, Joan Shawlee
Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
A Billy "Some Like It Hot" Wilder Production.
Winner of five 1960 Academy Awards including Best Picture, The Apartment is legendary writer/director Billy Wilder at his scathing, satirical best, and "one of the finest comedies Hollywood has turned out" (Newsweek).
C.C. "Bud" Baxter (Jack Lemmon) knows the way to success in business ... it's through the door of his apartment! By providing a perfect hideaway for philandering bosses, the ambitious young employee reaps a series of undeserved promotions. But when Bud lends the key to big boss J.D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), he not only advances his career, but his own love life as well. For Sheldrake's mistress is the lovely Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), elevator girl and angel of Bud's dreams. Convinced that he is the only man for Fran, Bud must make the most important executice decision of his career: lose the girl ... or his job.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 125 min.
Release Date: 2/5/2008
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Bruce Block
• “Inside The Apartment” Featurette
• “Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon” Featurette
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The Apartment: Collector's Edition (1960)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 6, 2008)
Back in the summer of 2000, I decided that the DVD Movie Guide needed a special page devoted solely to films that had won the Best Picture Oscar. This became a somewhat daunting task because we didn’t offer reviews of many of these titles, but I took to it eagerly and we managed to put the page online within a few months.
At that time, there were a lot of gaps in the Best Picture DVD releases. In June 2001, the first “complete decade” occurred, as that month’s release of 1960’s The Apartment finished off all 10 flicks from that span. In a way, it’s ironic that such a tumultuous decade finishes up with one of its quieter films. As a comedic drama - or a dramatic comedy, depending on your point of view, I suppose - The Apartment lacks the broad scope and scale of subsequent Best Picture winners like Lawrence of Arabia or The Sound of Music. It doesn’t attempt to provide the social commentary of In the Heat of the Night or Midnight Cowboy.
The movie maintains a small focus as it concentrates on the pathetic little life of insurance clerk C.C. “Bud” Baxter (Jack Lemmon). He’s just one small fish in a huge pond, as the Manhattan-based company for which he works maintains a payroll of more than 30,000. Baxter wants to get ahead, but his meek demeanor doesn’t really lend itself to advancement. However, as the film starts, we discover he’s found a way to gain the attention and affection of some superiors; he allows them to use his apartment for their extramarital trysts.
While this works well for his career positioning, it does little for Baxter’s own social life, or it would affect him if he had one. Most of his evenings at home are spent in front of the TV, so the main negative effect spurred by the manner in which others use his apartment stems from the fact he often is left out in the cold – literally, and he becomes ill.
I suppose my discussion of Baxter’s motives makes him look rather conniving, but that’s not really the case. While he’s eager to reap the career benefits of his lending scheme, it’s prospered mainly because he’s such a schmoe who can’t say “no”. He desperately wants to stand up to his higher-ups and regain control of his apartment - at least for an evening - but he can’t muster the backbone to do so.
Nonetheless, things seem to be going his way career-wise, and he also makes his move on a cute elevator operator named Fran (Shirley MacLaine). He’s had his eye on her for quite some time, but he doesn’t ask her out until he gets his promotion and starts to answer to Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). It seems that Sheldrake also wants access to Baxter’s apartment, and he gives Bud two tickets to a Broadway show to keep him occupied.
Baxter uses these tickets to ask out Fran, and she agrees, though she indicates they’ll have to meet at the theater since she has a previous engagement. To the surprise of few, that earlier date is with the married Sheldrake; the two had a fling that he wants to continue. Weak-willed Fran submits and heads to Baxter’s apartment with Sheldrake, while poor pathetic Bud waits alone in front of the theater. Despite that setback, he remains optimistic about his future in the company and with Fran, but things eventually become more complicated.
I’ll leave the remaining plot developments out of my review; I thought many of them were predictable, but I still prefer to avoid any additional potential spoilers. Despite a storyline that often seemed unsurprising, I really liked The Apartment, as it provided a very compelling and well-executed piece of work.
Key to the film’s success was the deft way that it straddled comedy and drama. The movie began as little more than a farce along the lines of director Billy Wilder’s earlier work like 1955’s The Seven Year Itch and 1959’s Some Like It Hot. That comment shouldn’t be regarded as a criticism of the prior films, since both were very entertaining and well made. I mention them just because a viewer new to The Apartment will likely feel that it fits in snugly with those movies.
However, as the plot complicates, the dramatic level escalates, and we find out just how troubled Fran really is. She’s a woman with extremely low self-esteem who really seems to dislike herself, and her feelings motivate her behavior. Good-natured Baxter tries to help, but there’s really only so much he can do; some people just don’t want to be saved.
Or do they? I’ll leave that plot point up in the air, but the manner in which Baxter and Fran get to know each other offers a twist from the usual fluffy romantic material. While the movie still offers some comedic moments, it becomes much more serious as it progresses and the complications amass.
In the hands of a lesser director, The Apartment could - and probably should - have been a mess. However, Wilder managed to dance between the humor and the pathos and make both sides of the coin believable and effective. Though the film’s second half did become more serious, the picture lacked any form of abrupt change of pace. Instead, Wilder gently moved it into a different direction, and the shift worked nicely.
It helped that The Apartment featured a very strong cast, though frankly, I can’t say that I was wild about Lemmon’s performance as Baxter. He handled the screwball comedic aspects of the role well, but he didn’t alter his tone strongly enough as the story turned dramatic. As such, he still seemed rather broad and over-the-top when the part called for a quieter tone. I wasn’t greatly dissatisfied with Lemmon’s work, as I thought he still made the role compelling and endearing, but I felt he should have taken a more subdued tone and mugged less as the film progressed.
On the other hand, MacLaine was virtually perfect as Fran. I’ve never been a fan of her work, and I’ve usually openly disliked the woman. However, I must acknowledge that she was almost flawless as Fran. MacLaine nimbly communicated the wounded inner core of the character without becoming maudlin or excessively sentimental. She maintained a cold distance from the world, a tone that seemed absolutely appropriate for such a sad, hurt person as Fran. MacLaine also managed to keep her adequately chipper and lively when necessary, so Fran didn’t degenerate into an emotional mess.
Honestly, I was stunned by the caliber of MacLaine’s performance. I’ve known women like Fran, and the accuracy she lent to the role floored me. She nailed the part so well that it was genuinely spooky; there were times I felt as though I was watching those past acquaintances. How hammy old Liz Taylor beat her for Best Actress makes no sense to me.
Well, at least Lemmon and MacLaine were nominated for Oscars, as was Jack Kruschen’s supporting turn as Doctor Dreyfuss. Poor MacMurray didn’t even get any form of Academy recognition for his solid work as the scheming Sheldrake. By this point in his career, MacMurray was becoming established as the genial family man we know from TV’s My Three Sons - which premiered in 1960 just a few months after The Apartment hit movie screens - and flicks like 1959’s The Shaggy Dog. When MacMurray worked against type in Wilder’s 1944 classic Double Indemnity, I thought he seemed laughably unconvincing. I refer to the film as a “classic” because of its continued status among movie fans; personally, I thought it had too many flaws to merit that title.
My biggest problem with Indemnity related to MacMurray, though, which was why I was pleased to see his work in The Apartment. I think MacMurray succeeded as Sheldrake because the role was just a small twist on his usual character. This was still a family man, but he was a fairly sleazy one who thought nothing of cheating on his wife. He displayed no qualms when he needed to lie to women, and he happily used them with no apparent effect on his conscience.
Happily, MacMurray resisted any urges to provide a warmer side to Sheldrake. He made the character bright and personable enough to allow us to believe women would be attracted to him, but he kept him cold and hard enough to avoid excessive charm; we needed to remain attached to Baxter. MacMurray really excelled in the role as he created a realistic character who seemed scummy but who avoided cartoonish elements.
If I have any complaint about The Apartment, it’d relate to the film’s length. At 125 minutes, it wasn’t excessive, but I thought it probably could have been shortened a bit. Nonetheless, the movie seemed like a very strong piece of work that provided a really well-executed combination of comedy and drama. I wasn’t sure what to expect of The Apartment before I watched it, but I definitely was pleased with what I saw.
The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B
The Apartment appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer offered consistently positive visuals.
I thought the vast majority of the image appeared crisp and well-defined. A smidgen of softness occasionally crept into wide shots, but most of those stayed concise. This was a pretty sharp presentation with no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and I noticed minimal edge enhancement.
Source flaws also remained minor. While I saw the occasional speck, the movie usually appeared clean and smooth. Blacks came across as quite deep and tight, and contrast was a strength. Low-light shots also demonstrated nice clarity and dimensionality. The occasional softness and the specks kept this one from “A”-level, but I still felt very pleased with the image.
For this DVD, The Apartment received a new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. Which begs the question: why? This was a chatty character piece, not something that I’d think would need a dynamic multichannel track.
And that thought was supported by the low-key nature of the soundfield. The material essentially remained monaural. Music sometimes broadened to the sides, but not with any real stereo imaging; the score used the side speakers in a manner that failed to muster much instrumental delineation. Some effects were more clearly localized, as speech and a few other specific elements occasionally came from the sides. However, those examples were infrequent, and surround usage was negligible at best.
Dialogue sounded clear and acceptably natural. In a manner typical for the era, speech seemed a little thin at times, but I detected no concerns related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects were also clear and decently realistic, and they lacked problems related to distortion. Music seemed to be similarly clean and bright. The mix delivered no substantial dynamic range, but it replicated the score and incidental music with acceptable accuracy. I heard no concerns related to background noise or source flaws. Overall, the soundtrack to The Apartment served the movie in an adequate manner.
How did the picture and sound of this 2008 Special Edition compare to those of the original 2001 DVD? I thought the two audio tracks were a wash. Sure, this one’s 5.1 mix opened things up a little, but it did so in such a modest way that it remained glorified mono most of the time, and the added space didn’t bring anything to the flick.
On the other hand, the visuals provided a serious upgrade. The old transfer was a bit of a mess; it presented enough decent shots to merit a “C-“, but it had a lot of problems. The 2008 DVD cleaned up virtually all of them and gave us a tight, lively version of the movie. It’s a vast improvement on the earlier disc.
While the old release included almost no extras, this 2008 SE provides a mix of elements. We open with an audio commentary from film historian Bruce Block. He offers a running, screen-specific chat that looks at cast and crew facts, script and story topics, interpretation of the piece, cinematography, sets and locations, and a mix of other production elements.
I wouldn’t call this a great commentary, but it’s consistent informative and enjoyable. Block digs into the movie well and balances the interpretation with the facts in a satisfying manner. The track adds to our knowledge of the film.
Next we find two featurettes. Inside The Apartment lasts 29 minutes, 35 seconds as it mixes movie clips, archival elements and interviews. We hear from Wilder Times author Kevin Lally, The Essentials co-host Molly Haskell, Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne, executive producer Walter Mirisch, On Sunset Boulevard author Ed Sikov, USC film professor Drew Casper, screenwriter’s son Paul Diamond, actor’s son Chris Lemmon, Jack Lemmon biographer Joe Baltake, author/film historian Robert Porfirio, and actors Shirley MacLaine, Hope Holiday, Edie Adams, and Johnny Seven. “Inside” looks at director Billy Wilder, what led him to the film and what inspired the story. It then goes into thoughts about society circa 1960, co-writer IAL Diamond and his influence on the project, the flick’s tone, cast, characters and performances, some script topics, sets and visual design, some scene specifics, and the film’s reception.
It comes as little surprise that a moderate amount of information repeats from Block’s commentary. Nonetheless, “Inside” offers enough new information to become worthwhile. Although it never quite becomes a great program, it offers a nice take on the movie.
For the 12-minute and 47-second Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon, we get notes from Chris Lemmon, Baltake, Casper, Osborne, Haskell, Holiday, and Lally. “Art” looks at the life and career of Jack Lemmon, along with thoughts about his talents as an actor. Much of the piece tends toward praise for Lemmon. It throws out some decent insights along the way, but the tone is a little too fluffy for my liking.
Although the old disc included the film’s trailer, that ad fails to reappear here. That seems like a strange omission.
As a movie, The Apartment was a fine piece of work. Director Billy Wilder created a film that provided both satisfying comedy and drama, and he melded these elements together in a neat and believable package. Even had the rest of the flick collapsed, however, The Apartment would have merited a viewing due to a stunning performance from Shirley MacLaine. Lord knows I never thought I’d type those words, for I’ve never been able to stand most of her work, but I can’t deny the extremely high caliber of acting she displayed here.
As a DVD, this Special Edition of The Apartment satisfies. Picture quality is very good to excellent, and though the 5.1 remix seems superfluous, it works fine. We don’t get many extras, but they offer some good insights into the film. This is a quality DVD release, and definitely one that merits a “double-dip” for fans who already have the old disc. The improvements in picture quality alone merit a new purchase.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.8571 Stars
| Number of Votes: 28