Winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, 1960’s The Apartment is one of legendary writer-director Billy Wilder’s crowning triumphs, a scathing and satirical humanistic masterpiece that expertly commingles comedy and drama without shortchanging either.
Jack Lemmon stars as C.C. “Bud” Baxter, an ordinary if a bit lonely life insurance salesman who provides the perfect cover and black-market “service” for his philandering bosses, by loaning out his New York apartment for their extramarital trysts. Currying favor in such fashion, Bud wins a series of promotions not entirely deserved. When he meets head boss Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray, smartly cast against grain), Bud thinks the gig is finally up. It turns out, though, that Jeff is very much like all the other men in the company, carrying on an affair with elevator operator Fran Kubilek (Shirley MacLaine, above right). Things get wildly mixed up, however, when Bud — without knowing she’s Jeff’s latest gal — falls for Fran, who’s disconsolate over Jeff’s unwillingness to leave his wife.
The general encroach of more social realism and the Hollywood relaxation of narrative restrictions in stories dabbling in matters of infidelity greatly benefits The Apartment, which — obviously without anything ever approaching graphic content — balances light comedy and much darker drama (without giving anything away for those who haven’t seen the movie, there’s a twist that one can’t fathom making it past a second-tier studio reader in the modern-day development process) in a deft, breathtaking fashion. A perfect team, Wilder and frequent co-writer I.A.L. “Izzy” Diamond are skilled with dialogue, character and surrounding physical detail, and the result is a cinematic classic, through and through — a movie that captures all the wild swings and ebbs and flows of emotion in real life.
Housed in a regular Amray case, this special collector’s edition of The Apartment is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, and comes with English 5.1 Dolby surround sound and mono audio tracks, as well as Spanish and French mono audio tracks. Film historian and producer Bruce Block sits for an engaging feature-length audio commentary track, and he seemingly has an anecdote for just about every bit character actor in the movie. The chief supplemental feature, though, is a fantastic half-hour making-of featurette, which is powered by all sorts of astute interview contributions — from On Sunset Boulevard author Ed Sikov, executive producer Walter Mirisch, co-writer Diamond’s son Paul, and others — and delves into everything from the inspiration for the movie (David Lean’s Brief Encounter) to its casting, production and release. This material wonderfully helps frame and contextualize the film, which came on the heels of Some Like It Hot, also starring Lemmon. When USC film professor Drew Casper recalls Wilder’s description of his movie’s bustling office set (“This is our chariot race”), it makes total, if amusing, sense that Wilder would see comparison with the Oscar-winning Ben Hur, from two years prior. There’s also a separate 12-minute celebration of Lemmon, with interviews from the late actor’s son, Chris, as well as biographer Joe Baltake and Wilder Times author Kevin Lally. These bits are all great, especially from Chris Lemmon, because they give a real sense of the in many ways unlikely Hollywood rise (he was wasted during a brief contract stint at Columbia) of the simple son of a baker, and how that informed Lemmon’s lifelong humbleness. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. A (Movie) A- (Disc)