The Apartment: One Of The Best Billy Wilder Films

Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in The Apartment. Courtesy of MGM/UA.

The Apartment, a multiple Oscar-winning film, is one of the greatest Billy Wilder films ever made and appropriate New Year’s viewing.

Be a mensch. Do you know what that means?

The gist of the film is that insurance clerk Calvin Clifford (C.C.) “Bud” Baxter lets senior coworkers use his Upper West Side apartment for their affairs. He does this in hopes of helping him climb up the ladder at work. Meanwhile, he is attracted to an elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). What he doesn’t know is that she is having an affair with his boss, personnel director J.D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). Jeff promises to divorce his wife but Fran learns from Miss Olsen (Edie Adams) that he cheated on her, too. Fran confronts Jeff but he only ends up going back to his family. Fran ends up overdosing on Bud’s sleeping pills, which forces Bud to call for neighbor Dr. David Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) upon his return.

Billy Wilder couldn’t have made this film early in his writing or directing career. A lot of this is because of the Production Code’s strict rules on marriage and adultery. By the time that 1960 came around, the Hayes Code was not as strong as it used to be. To put it simply, sex sold and everyone knew it. Anyway, Wilder was a brilliant filmmaker and knew exactly how he wanted a shot and would break would if he wanted a certain reaction from talent on screen. There was no telling actors what he was looking for in their emotional reaction in a shot. Think about what it says when Billy Wilder is one of a few people to take home three Oscars in one night (Best Picture, Director, and Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen aka Original Screenplay).

The Apartment is more than just a comedy or drama, let alone a film that touches on sarcastic commentary–it’s a film that combines all three elements in a groundbreaking cinematic classic. Hell, there’s a suicide attempt that comes an hour into the film–again, not something that one would typically find in a comedy. Even in the film’s ending, they also go against clichés of the era. While it’s nearly impossible to beat Osgood’s “Well–nobody’s perfect” line in Some Like It Hot, they try their damned best to do so. This time around, it’s another knockout line.

Bud: Did you hear what I said, Miss Kubelik? I absolutely adore you.

Fran: Shut up and deal!

Throughout it all, Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond make their characters realistic. These two were very strict with the words on their script and how they actors presented the lines. Wilder also reteams with Some Like It Hot‘s Jack Lemmon, who shows the depth of his range on screen. There is nobody else who could play Calvin Clifford (C.C.) “Bud” Baxter other than Jack Lemmon. Already an Oscar-winning actor, Lemmon would earn a nomination for Best Actor. Meanwhile, Shirley MacLaine brings a commanding performance to her Oscar-nominated role, where she has to play a character who is fun, happy, and sad. Wilder also reteams with Double Indemnity‘s Fred MacMurray.

Watching the film again for the first time since January 2009, the Oscar-winning production design is really impressive. Take a look at the insurance corporation. There’s a matte background painting at the back of the set but it’s an otherwise massive set that looks this way because of the forced perspective. I credit art director Alexandre Trauner for making sure taller people are up front and smaller people are sitting in the back.

While Chicago audiences have two opportunities to watch the film over New Year’s weekend at the Music Box Theatre, the picture has never looked better than on the Kino Lorber 4K UHD release. In addition to the remastered picture, the film is presented with a 5.1 Surround & Original 2.0 Mono soundtrack. A pair of legacy documentary featurettes carry over from previous releases along with Bruce Block’s audio commentary. The Arrow Academy Blu-ray includes several more bonus features. If you’re that type of person, it’s best to hold onto both copies.

The Apartment is an all-around masterclass in cinema.

DIRECTOR: Billy Wilder
SCREENWRITERS: Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond
CAST: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis, Joan Shawlee, Naomi, Stevens, Hope Holiday, and Edie Adams

United Artists released the film in theaters on June 15, 1960. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.