On the tails of watching Some Like It Hot, I thought I would see another Billy Wilder film and chose The Apartment. It’s a film with many levels – there is definitely comedy, but there’s also a seriousness and darkness at its core. It starts with C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) who works for a corporation in New York City. In order to move up in the company, he starts lending out his apartment in the evenings to executives in return for promises of good-words and promotions. But of course, things are bound to go wrong and as he tires of losing access to his apartment, he also finds love with Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) who works one of the elevators in the building.
It begins lighthearted with Baxter’s woes over not being able to use his apartment any night of the week. And I particularly like when neighbor Dr Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) is shown yelling to his wife about another woman at Baxter’s apartment. But it also sets the stage for the film as a commentary on corporate America. Baxter is so determined to move up in the company that he will give up his living space. He has no girlfriend, no family and seemingly no friends – and because of his desire for more money and power, he loses his living space as well, staying at the office extra hours because he has no place else to go. Likewise, the higher-ups who borrow his apartment continuously guilt him into continuing the favor, going so far as to call him selfish for taking one night of the week for himself rather than loaning it out to one of them.
His boss, Mr Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) finally becomes privy to the dealings of the other executives and begins to use Baxter’s apartment himself. Here the film takes a real turn for the dreary when we see the interactions between Sheldrake and Kubelik, with whom he is cheating on his wife. She is lost in a rose-colored image of him, denying to herself that he never plans to leave his wife for her until she finds out she isn’t the only one he has done this with.
It is really about two people, Baxter and Kubelik, who are in love with the idea of love but remained too focused on economic growth and the idea of power to see what is right in front of them. Things do come around in the end, and Wilder is able to finish with one of his famous last lines:
“Shut up and deal.”
Five Oscar wins aside, including Best Picture, it’s a film worthy of IMDb’s Top 250 and is still just as relevant 45 years after its release as it was in 1960.