Friday, May 23, 2014

The Apartment (Best Picture 1960)

After four years worth of epic adventure films shot in glorious color, this year's Best Picture The Apartment offers a return to the type of intimate character study similar to Marty or On The Waterfront. In many ways, this is one of the first "adult" Best Pictures, too, as it deals with infidelity, adultery, lying, cheating, and attempted suicide, even though it's supposedly a comedy!@

The story centers around C.C. Baxter, a low-level number cruncher at giant Consolidated Life Insurance. Baxter has a bachelor pad that is being used by several executives of the company to have illicit love affairs. Baxter feels put-upon but powerless to change the situation, as he is being taken advantage of under threat of termination.  Eventually Baxter is rewarded with a promotion for his efforts. However, this move-up alerts the head of HR that something is going on. Sheldrake weasels the details of the arrangement out of Baxter and orders him to shut the operation down...except for his personal use. So Sheldrake establishes himself as not only a bully, but as a hypocrite.
Meanwhile, Baxter is working up the courage to ask out his office crush, Miss Kubelik the elevator girl. As they make tentative steps to get to know each other, Baxter accidentally learns that she is the woman Sheldrake is taking to his apartment. He begins to resent the arrangement. On Christmas Eve, Sheldrake gives Miss Kubelik $100 cash as a present. This makes her feel like she is nothing but a prostitute. When he leaves, she takes an overdose of sleeping pills, still not knowing whose apartment it is.

Luckily, Baxter comes home in time to find her, and working with his neighbor Dr. Dreyfuss they save her life. She is bed-ridden for the next few days, and in that time they begin to really care for each other.
If you know Billy Wilder and his films, such as Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, and Witness For The Prosecution, you know whether you will like this movie or not. Billy Wilder produced, directed, as well as wrote this (with his friend, I.A.L. Diamond), winning Academy Awards for each of those categories. If you haven't seen any of these other movies, you should go to the library and borrow any or all of them. Wilder is wonderful at mixing the pathos in with the comedy, or is it the comedy in with the drama? Is it funny when Baxter gets stuck out in the rain while some executive tries to get fresh with his clueless mistress? It's certainly funny when Baxter squirts his nose drops across the office as Sheldrake is imposing his will on the hapless man. And it's funny that Dr. Dreyfuss and all of Baxter's neighbors, thinks all of the sex going on in his apartment involves him. Yet, it's starkly un-funny when he and Baxter work diligently to save Miss Kubelik's life. The Apartment is this kind of film.

Jack Lemmon is perfectly cast as C. C. Baxter. He bounces between the comedy and the drama effortlessly. There are countless examples, but I will give you one: Baxter is on a high after he is promoted. He buys himself a new bowler hat, and when he runs into Miss Kubelik he shines as they chat. Watch his face when she hands him her compact mirror, however. He had found it in his apartment and given it back to Sheldrake, who obviously gave it back to Miss Kubelik. As he realizes that his crush is the woman who is sleeping with Sheldrake, his appearance changes before he catches himself and reverts back to "normal." It's a terrifically painful scene to watch, all because Lemmon is a pro.

Shirley MacLaine is also great at Miss Kubelik, which, by the way, is what she is called throughout the film. Only Sheldrake uses her first name, and when he does it sounds more fake than when Baxter calls her by her last name.  When the doctor asks Baxter what her name is, he has to take a moment to try to remember; when he does say it, it sounds positively intimate. MacLaine as Kubelik projects just the right amount of spunkiness and weakness. We believe that she is smart enough to know Sheldrake is only using her, but not strong enough to break way or smart enough to realize that Baxter is in love with her. 
The surprising star of the film as far as I am concerned, however, is Fred MacMurray as Sheldrake. He is the epitome of evil in this film: smooth, salesman-ish, and absolutely slimy. If you only know MacMurray from "My Three Sons" or from his Disney films, you're in for a big surprise. (By the way, he also played well in an earlier Wilder film, Double Indemnity. I heartily recommend it!) He is absolutely floored when both Baxter and Kubelik reject him, and you get the impression he will never understand why they did it. 
"I love you, Miss Kubelik."  "Shut up and deal."
The Apartment is not as flashy as Ben-Hur or as colorful as Gigi, but in its own down-to-earth way, it's a better film than both of them. If you like genuine and emotional films, this is the film for you. 
The Apartment
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1960*
Produced and Directed by Billy Wilder
Screenplay by I.A.L. Diamond & Billy Wilder
Love the line about this being a Fred MacMurray you've never seen before!

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
The Alamo
Elmer Gantry
Sons and Lovers
The Sundowners
I'm sorry to say that this is one of the years where I haven't seen most of the other nominees. I have seen Elmer Gantry, which features Burt Lancaster in his Oscar-winning role, beating out Jack Lemmon. Shirley Jones, from Oklahoma! and later "Partridge Family" fame, won Best Supporting Actress. Sons and Lovers is the film of the melodramatic D.H. Lawrence novel; I couldn't finish it, so I don't want to see the film version, either. Let me spoil John Wayne's  The Alamo for you by telling you that they all die. And The Sundowners is another of those "epic" films like How The West Was Won, this time about sheep-herders in Australia. Sorry, but even the presence of Deborah Kerr can't get me to watch that. Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8 beat MacLaine (and Deborah Kerr) for Best Actress; Peter Ustinov in Spartacus beat Jack Kruschen as Dr. Dreyfuss for Best Supporting Actor. 

No comments:

Post a Comment