Reviews and notes
is a dirty fairy-tale as only Billy Wilder can tell them. Its message is that a young man who lets his bosses use his furnished apartment to carry out extramarital affairs is operating in the best American tradition of individual initiative and enterprise. In this lusty story that can turn sad and ironic at any twist, Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is just another night-school diploma in the personnel files of a big insurance company in New York until the fateful day when it dawns on him that if his own virtues aren't enough, other people's vices might help. He lends his apartment ta department head who is having an affair with a telephone-operator: Soon he is slipping his key to four philandering executives, and though he gets awfully tired of sitting in the park all evening, keymanship has its compensations. His superiors write glowing reports on his work, and the reports soon come to the attention of the big boss (Fred MacMurray). 'Baxter, as far as I'm concerned, you're executive material,' he says... because he wants the key too. Before long, Baxter is an assistant to the boss. Suddenly he discovers that he has outsmarted himself - the girl that the boss takes to his apartment (Shirley MacLaine) is the girl of his dreams.
is Wilder's best film since Sunset Boulevard
, a bouncing comedy handling a frankly sordid theme with intelligence and compassion. The dialogue is frank; the picture has atmosphere; and it creates a feeling about people. There is a bit of buffoonery in which bachelor Baxter uses a tennis racket as a spaghetti-strainer. There is a piece of business in which the heroine, when asked by him how many affairs she has had, admits to three but unconsciously lifts four fingers. There is a cruel vignette when she has tried to commit suicide and her top executive lover on the phone couldn't care less about her condition. There are unsavoury Wilderisms, such as the doctor's brutal treatment of the heroine after her suicide attempt; and there is Wilderian humour - the very premise that the rise of an organisation man is a sort of rogue's progress and that the room at the top is the executive washroom. Even the resolution is essential Wilder: Baxter turns in his washroom key and wins the girl. They will be happy, but jobless.
The filming of <THE APARTMENT
at Goldwyn Studios was pleasant, relaxed, and Wilder was in top form, cracking jokes at every turn. He called the dolly shot at the beginning of the film, which takes Baxter through acres of grey steel desks and steel-grey faces on his first promotion, 'our chariot race'. The scene of the office Christmas party was actually shot on 23 December 1959. A notation in the script called it 'a swinging party', and Wilder's principals and 250 extras,.were on top at the first take. Beamed he: 'Who needs a dIrector? I just say "Action!" and stand back.'
- Axel Madsen, Billy Wilder, Cinema One, Secker and Warburg, 1968.
Back in the day, THE APARTMENT
scooped the Academy Awards, taking home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. It was a major hit and gets top ratings in all the movies-on-TV guides, yet it's not often revived. Considered as a Billy Wilder movie, it has never become as admired as Double Indentity
or as beloved at Some Like It Hot
Perhaps its relative obscurity is down to the lack of a movie icon. And maybe it's that this comedy tells truths about American business and sexual mor?s as uncomfortable now as they were in 1960. However, since even committed Wilder fans are likely to have seen THE APARTMENT
only once, this re-release reveals a fresher picture than many a classic you can recite by rote.
- Kim Newman, Empire.
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