The Apartment (1960)
“A Billy “Some Like It Hot” Wilder Production”
Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray
Synopsis: A man tries to rise in his company by letting its executives use his apartment for trysts, but complications and a romance of his own ensue.
Shirley Maclaine was never lovelier – or appeared more vulnerable – than when she played Fran Kubelick, the sassy – but abused – elevator operator who catches the eye of Jack Lemmon’s ambitious office worker, C. C. Baxter. They’re two of a kind, Kubelick and Baxter, both exploited by an uncaring management which can’t see beyond its own voracious and distasteful appetite. It’ an exploitation that comes close to destroying Maclaine’s character, and director Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond’s script has a dark edge of cynicism running through it that surprisingly complements the script’s more humorous aspects. Nobody’s really happy in the movie, everyone’s looking for something they haven’t got while neglecting what they do have.
Take away Jack Lemmon’s seemingly effortless likeability and you realise that C. C. Baxter isn’t really that likeable a character. He rents out the use of his apartment so that his married bosses have somewhere to cheat on their wives with women they are simply using for no-strings sex, but because he has now found himself unable to refuse them we are supposed to feel sorry for him. His interest in Kubelik prompts him to access her personnel records, something he matter-of-factly confesses to her when he asks her out on a date. The fact he knows more about her than any comparative stranger has a right to know doesn’t seem to faze Miss Kubelik one bit, but most girls would be running a mile. She’s a single woman sleeping with another woman’s husband – but that’s ok because she loves him whereas he is only using her for sex. The married man is Fred MacMurray, and he’s very good in the role. He’s very believable, and not quite conniving enough to be completely dislikeable in the same way that, say, Ray Walston’s character is.
The city – and modern life – is dehumanising its residents so that genuine feelings, such as those Baxter has for Kubelik, are both rare and difficult to nurture. You get the feeling that the two of them don’t really have much of a future together once reality kicks in – mundane reality, that is, not the bottle-of-sleeping-pills reality that throws them together. Or that if they do it’s because Kubelik has settled for a man she doesn’t really love.
Wilder and Diamond’s writing is as crisp and smooth as ever. They had a wonderful ear for dialogue, and a near-unerring instinct for a memorable metaphor. Take Fran kubelik’s compact, for example. It’s referred to only a couple of times, but its use as a symbol of Kubelik’s mental fragility is so powerful that we don’t need any further physical signals from Maclaine to remind us that, beneath the sly, knowing looks and glances she’s a tired and frightened child – from the moment of it’s first scene, the image of that cracked mirror inside the case immediately springs to mind each time we look at her.
(Reviewed 2nd October 2012)