Jack Lemmon
Shirley MacLaine
Fred MacMurray
Ray Walston
Jack Kruschen
David Lewis
Hope Holiday
Joan Shawlee

Billy Wilder



Time: 125 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Comedy/Romance

Won Academy Awards for Art Direction, Director, Film Editing, Original Screenplay and Best Picture. Nominated for Best Actor (Lemmon), Actress (MacLaine), Supporting Actor (Kruschen), Cinematography and Sound.

Only Billy Wilder could pull off a film about a man who lends his apartment out for illicit liaisons in order to climb the corporate ladder that's funny, sad, romantic and only mildly sordid. After all, Baxter (played marvelously by Lemmon) is helping his co-workers cheat on their wives, encouraging behavior that society certainly frowned upon at the time...and still does. Yet, Lemmon makes Baxter endearingly sweet and hopelessly helpful. He never planned on his apartment becoming the office love nest. It just snowballs, leaving this yes-man with literally no place to go. All he wants, besides his own office, is the love of Ms. Kubilik (MacClaine), the perky elevator operator who works in the same building. This being Wilder, the road to romance and a key to the executive restroom is anything but easy and entirely entertaining.

The film opens with C.C. "Bud" Baxter attempting to move up into middle management of the insurance company he works for. Since there are almost 32,000 employees, it's kind of hard to get noticed. He believes his star is on the rise after being recommended for promotion to the head of personnel, Mr. Sheldrake (MacMurray), by four different managers. Baxter secured the high praise for working hard...and allowing the gentlemen to hold "private meetings" in his apartment. He doesn't exactly approve of their behavior, but what they do behind their wives' backs is really none of his business. Their antics do occasionally put him in a tight spot and cause complaints from his neighbors, but for the most part it works. If it makes everyone happy, why should he complain about a little inconvenience. He even hopes to use the apartment for a bit of loving himself one day. He has a crush on Ms. Kubilik, but she doesn't reciprocate his feelings. She likes Baxter, he's one of the few true gentlemen who ride her elevator each day, but she doesn't date people from the building. Lord knows, they've all tried.

"I used to live like Robinson Crusoe, shipwrecked among 8 million people but one day I saw a footprint in the sand and there you were."

The situation gets ugly when Bud discovers the man who controls his corporate ascent is also the one dating his dream girl. Ms. Kubilik is desperately in love with Mr. Sheldrake, however, his feelings don't run nearly as deep. He likes Ms. Kubilik, enjoys spending time with her, but is not going to ruin his career and marriage over a girl like her. She's nice, but nothing special. Baxter begs to differ. Fran is a sweet, respectable, first class gal and he's not about to let her be treated like that. Well, he does agree to stay quiet for an office with a view. However, a near tragedy changes his mind and career path forever. No one's very pleased with Baxter's behavior, least of all Baxter. He's disappointed everyone and almost cost a good friend her future. He decides to stop lending out the apartment despite the consequences. His personal happiness is more important and he can always get another job. He comes to realize that his friendship with Ms. Kubilik is the only decent thing in his whole life. She realizes he's the only man who's ever treated her with sensitivity, honesty and respect. Their experiences garner both of them some well-earned self-respect and show them the possibility of love right before their eyes.

THE APARTMENT is a comedy wrapped in tragedy, topped with romance. Like most Wilder films, the outcome is familiar, but the road to get there is filled with the unexpected. What begins as a film about corporate politics, turns into one about sexual intrigue, showing the toll both can play on the mind and soul. The complexity of the story and depth of the message is hidden in the seemingly harmless antics of Baxter and his co-workers. Lemmon is perfectly cast as the snook who'll agree to anything to get ahead. Sure he's annoyed with having to cater to these men who treat his home like a frat house, but isn't that OK if it gets you what you want? As the film progresses and people begin to get hurt, Baxtor's need for self-respect becomes greater than his need for advancement. Lemmon tries to hide Baxtor's humiliation at being so used, but it cries out from behind his big brown eyes. The physical comedy and sharp dialogue notwithstanding, Lemmon gives a subtle, powerful performance that will knock your socks off. It's his innate decency that keeps Baxtor likable despite his obvious lack of judgement. It's one of my favorite Lemmon roles ever.

MacLaine does a stupendous job as well, garnering her second Oscar nomination for her role as Fran Kubilik, the elevator operator with dreams of romance. She seems like such a sweet, smart, practical girl in her first few scenes with Lemmon, however, as the film progresses we discover that still waters run deep. It's a dark and funny turn as Fran tragically learns the cruel realities of love in the fast lane. A hard lesson that enables her to see the power of true friendship and the value of an honest, if not overtly powerful, man. Lemmon and MacLaine have wonderful chemistry together. After their first scene in the elevator, you know exactly how this film is going to end. Of course, this being Wilder, the film is more likely to close with a quip than a kiss. Since he was one of the writers as well, the film oozes his sensibility from every frame. He won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay with his long-time writing partner I.A.L. Diamond and you'll understand why with the first line of dialogue. Very few screenplays ever capture such humor and humanity at the same time.

Though this is on the surface a comedy, Wilder's films take their cues from the joys and trauma of everyday life. Nothing in this film is so outrageous as to be unbelievable and yet, it's still amusing as all get out. Shooting in black and white forces the audience to look at the hard reality of Baxter's life. There's no candy-coating what's going on here. If this were shot in color, it would be hard to take the darker points of the story seriously. Black and white instantly conveys a tone, mood and style that cannot be achieved any other way. I usually don't agree with the Academy in their choice of Best Picture, but they were right in this case. It's the only film in the category that's stands the test of time. I never get tired of watching it. It's rare to find a movie that's so lovingly and cleverly put together. If you haven't seen this film, you're truly missing out on one the great romantic comedies ever to grace the screen.

home | reviews | actors | actresses | film heaven | all reviews