For 1 Year, 100 Movies, contributor/filmmaker Trey Hock is watching all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year. His reactions to each film are recorded here twice a week until the year (and list) is up!
It has a bunch of hilarious moments, and “The Apartment” seems destined for a happy ending. Yet there is still a lot of genuinely dark and difficult subject matter to chew over. Director Billy Wilder knew that if you elicit strong emotions or emotional distress from the viewer, this could be turned into laughter within seconds. Wanna get ‘em laughing? Get ‘em crying first.
“The Apartment” follows C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), a young agent at a premier insurance company, and a bachelor who lives alone. Looking to get ahead at the company, Baxter ingratiates himself to some members of the upper management by loaning out his apartment to them. This way they can bring their mistresses and sexual exploits over without concern for getting caught.
But all of this leads to a bit of a problem.
Since Baxter loans his apartment out to four different executives, scheduling becomes a nightmare. This scene shows Baxter trying to reschedule so that he can rest and recover from a cold. (The sound starts about 5 seconds into the clip.)
The very nature of the situation is pretty funny, but the “The Apartment” is more than a simple situational comedy.
As you can tell, this office is something of a boys’ club, and one of the conquests that a number of the executives have their sites set on is Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), an attractive young elevator operator. Kubelik denies all of their advances, and it appears that she wants to be more than the next notch in the bedpost.
Baxter of course falls for Kubelik, and asks her out.
But something’s amiss and we soon discover that Kubleik’s involved with Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), the director of the insurance firm. It’s not long until Baxter discovers the truth, and tries to drown his lonely holiday sorrows.
Kubelik also finds out that Baxter owns the apartment she has been meeting Sheldrake in. Cue train wreck, and ensuing resolution. Still, the troubles are vivid and substantial and the resolution is awkward, real, and entirely satisfying.
Jack Lemmon’s performance is top notch. He is funny and sincere. He gives Baxter just enough spine to not be completely crushed. Shirley MacLaine sparkles as well. She makes Miss Kubelik smart, adorable, and disarming.
“The Apartment” is the story of trying to get ahead by using leverage, influence, and sex. This would become almost a genre unto itself in the 1980s. There was Herbert Ross’ “The Secret of My Succe$s” and Mike Nichols’ dated but still underrated “Working Girl” just to name a couple. These films all have debts of varying sizes owed to “The Apartment.”
For it’s own sake, “The Apartment” remains a funny, heartbreaking, and sweet romantic comedy that refuses to take any easy turns. Watch it or revisit it, and you’ll wonder why you’ve put up with the miserable, small-minded romcoms that fill the screens today.
Next up #79 “The Wild Bunch”
For links to #90 – 100 click on 1 Year, 100 Movies #90 Swing Time (1936)