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The Apartment

review by Anthony D.

Rated R

Studio: MGM

Running Time: 125 minutes

Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray

Written by I.A.L. Diamond and Billy Wilder

Directed by Billy Wilder

Retail Price: $19.98

Features: Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Mono, French Mono, Spanish Mono, English Closed Captions, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Chapter Search

It is a truly great director who can carefully construct a perfect blend of comedy and drama. It is truly a cinematic marvel to have such a film withstand the mores of forty years and still work. If the combined talents of director Billy Wilder, actor Jack Lemmon and actress Shirley MacLaine had never made "The Apartment," then the world of cinema would be at a loss to find a more perfect picture.

Wilder's follow-up to his censor-baiting "Some Like it Hot," with his star from that film, was 1960's "The Apartment." Lemmon would work often with Wilder, serving as much as an "Everyman" figure as James Stewart did to Hitchock and Johnny Depp more recently has done for Tim Burton; but it is his performance as C.C."Bud" Baxter that cemented te actor/director relationship. You see, C.C., is an up and coming young businessman, whose bachelorhood works in his constant favor to the married men in his firm. When you have a bachelor's apartment, and no history of dating, you can loan out your apartment's key to upper executives to use for their own afternoon and evening extramarital trysts and rendevous. When you loan said apartment key to the "BIG BOSS," you can guarantee yourself a major promotion. With that major promotion, you can almost guarantee yourself, the girl of your dreams: a fetching young girl named Fran Kubelik, whose love life has more ups and downs than the elevator she happens to operate. BUT when the girl of your dreams is having an illicit affair with your "BIG BOSS," well, your life can really suck - - promotion and all! When your three top-billed actors are the afore-mentioned MacLaine and Lemmon (as C.C. and Fran) as well as the multi-talented Fred MacMurray as BIG BOSS J.D. Sheldrake, then you get Wilder's delightful and touching Academy Award winning Best Picture "The Apartment."

With actors of that caliber working under the steady hand of Billy Wilder, who also wrote the screenplay with his partner I. A .L. Diamond, you can expect to have characters you can care for, whether what they are doing is morally "correct" or not. One of the pleasures of "The Apartment" is that it doesn't judge these characters...they exist just as they are - - love 'em, or leave 'em. Lemmon getting the drift of MacMurray's enticing promotional speech, while suffering from a case of the sniffles; MacLaine raiding "The Apartment's" medicine cabinet for a full-throttle suicide attempt; Lemmon and MacLaine's spaghetti dinner strained through a tennis racket are only a few scenes which stand out in the film's over two hour running time. The film feels far shorter than it really is, thanks to the brilliant pacing that whooshes from the apartment to the office to a bench in Central Park to the lobby of a theater as if carried on a magic carpet.

"The Apartment" deserves every accolade it has been afforded. Five Academy Awards in a tight Oscar race is a commendable acheivement, though I wish in addition that Lemmon and MacLaine had been afforded a statuette for their work here - - it would take a while before either of them won a "leading" category, Lemmon for 1973's "Save the Tiger" and MacLaine for 1983's "Terms of Endearment."

Even the smallest roles are made unforgettable by the likes of Edie Adams (a spurned secretary), Ray Walston and David Lewis (C.C.'s co-workers), Oscar-nominated Jack Kruschen (as a life-saving neighbor) as well as Wilder stalwart Joan Shawlee.

"The Apartment" is a remarkable film as it treads delicately between drama and comedy. The laughs that come are not guffaws, but laughs of recognition at the plight of humans and their foibles. The drama is as believable as it can be (granted, most BIG BOSSES nowadays have their own little hideaways for their affairs) given today's standards. If you haven't seen "The Apartment," don't hesitate any longer, MGM has made it available in a bare-bones package (read on for the details) that should fit into anyone's budgetary restraints.

Presented in a nifty, anamorphic transfer, "The Apartment" has a very good print to offer. The luminescent of the fluorescent lighting in the incredibly deep office scenes (shot on a medium sized stage) occasionally glimmers, with no other unreasonable problems. The wide Panavision canvas is well served with deep blacks and a multitude of hues on the gray scale. The Academy Award nominated black and white cinematography is preserved in a near to pristine state, and thankfully the winning Art Direction/Set Decoration is as beautiful today as it was in 1960. Take a gander at the details of the title's dwelling-place and all of the character it has been given through the set's decorations. "The Apartment" couldn't possibly be a better film, and to ask for a better transfer would be pointless, considering the film's age. There are no artifacts or distracting signs of age to be found, and edge enhancement is negligible.

"Bonjour, Mme. Kubelik!" "Buenos Dias, Senorita Kubelik!" are only two of the ways in which the viewer can hear Jack Lemmon greet Shirley MacLaine. In addition to the French and Spanish mono tracks, "The Apartment" boasts its original English mono track. Non-admirers of Shirley MacLaine may find the track to be harsher than usual, but Shirley rarely screeches her way through this role. Otherwise, it is a standard, well-centered audio presentation.

Okay, "The Apartment" is a seminal film in the career of Billy Wilder, garnering him the Academy Award for Best Director, not to mention another Oscar for his Original Screenplay, so what does MGM do to celebrate this celebrated film? NADA! Zip! Except for the Original Theatrical Trailer (which contains the film's final bittersweet ending!) there's nothing at all, which is a lowdown dirty shame.

What could have been a very seedy, even smarmy tale, becomes a classic love story in the capable hands of Billy Wilder. Think about what "The Apartment" is really about: a man who has to sleep in the bed of forbidden lovers! That is the character of C. C. Baxter, who in the hands of a lesser actor than Lemmon, could be a self-pitiful mensch, rather than the lovable character that he becomes. Without that likable central figure, "The Apartment" could never have become the hit 1970's Broadway musical "Promises, Promises." That particular Bacharach & David musical is very faithful to Wilde's screenplay, and in addition to restarting Jerry ("Law and Order") Orbach's stage career, successfully launched the London career of Betty ("Carrie" "Tender Mercies") Buckley prior to her long-running stint on television's "Eight is Enough," not to mention the career of choreographer/director Michael Bennett, who used the friends he made in the show's ensemble as the archetypes for his own ground-breaking musical "A Chorus Line." Yes, and "Promises, Promises" gave us that wonderful standard "I'll Never Fall in Love Again!" That is quite a legacy for one film to leave behind, and although MGM has presented a no-frills product, one wishes that MGM could have come up with a "Special Edition" befitting Billy Wilder's "The Apartment." It is only because "The Apartment" rates so highly as a film that I begrudgingly grant the overall rating of "4," at MGM's budget price, there's no reason at all to rent "The Apartment" when you can take out a lifetime lease for less than twenty bucks!

(5/5 - NOT included in final score)




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