wonders if Billy Wilder’s magnificent comedy-drama, The Apartment, could be made today in the age of #MeToo. Probably
not, despite its brilliant script, exceptional cast and performances, perfect
direction, and its positive message against sexual harassment in the workplace.
so, in some circles The Apartment was
considered controversial upon its release in 1960. Hollis Alpert in the Saturday Review called it a “dirty fairy
tale.” Then again, The Apartment was
coming off the heels of the hugely successful and popular Some Like it Hot, which the more-Puritan side of America may have
called illicit and tawdry, too. Or perhaps co-writer and director Wilder was
simply good at telling grown-up tales for adults within the context of a
rapidly-maturing culture that was on the verge of a decade known for its freedom
of expression. The 1960s was an explosion in breaking taboos—in all the arts, as
well as in politics, civil rights, and sexual mores. It was the decade of revolution,
protest, and the Pill.
Weiner was most assuredly influenced by The
Apartment to create his groundbreaking television series, Mad Men, which also spotlighted sexual
harassment in corporate America in the 1960s. The executives of Mad Men’s Manhattan advertising firm
often behaved like their counterparts in the New York insurance company that is
at the center of The Apartment. To
think that Wilder did it first, and at the beginning of the actual decade in
question, is a kind of eerie premonition.
the film, written by Wilder and his relatively new (since 1957) scribe partner,
I.A.L. Diamond, several executives at the firm take advantage of schlemiel C.
C. “Bud” Baxter (a career-defining performance for Jack Lemmon) by borrowing
the underling’s Upper West Side apartment for extramarital affairs, often with
women from the office. Baxter hopes for a promotion out of the deal. One of the
bosses, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray, playing against type once again for
Wilder) wants the apartment for a liaison with Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine,
in a career-making performance), who
is a lowly elevator operator at the firm. The problem is that Bud is sweet on
a screwball comedy, a love story, a treatise on gender politics, and a cynical
take on American morality, all done with Billy Wilder’s singular flare for
caustic wit and irony. Oscar voters thought it was special, too, for the
picture walked away with the statues for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best
Original Screenplay, as well as Art/Set Direction (black and white) and
Editing. Lemmon and MacLaine were nominated in the leading acting categories,
as was Jack Kruschen (who plays an initially bewildered—and then
helpful—neighbor) for Supporting Actor.
Blu-ray release is a marvel. The brand new 4K restoration looks astonishingly sharp
and crystal clear, an absolute perfect representation of the film. It comes
with an uncompressed PCM mono soundtrack, with an optional 5.1 remix in
lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. There’s an audio commentary by film producer and
historian Bruce Block.
previous home video releases, this Arrow release contains loads of supplements.
The Key to the Apartment is a
wonderful and concise introduction to the movie by film historian Philip Kemp,
who also provides selected scene commentary throughout the picture. The Flawed Couple is a new video piece
by filmmaker David Cairns on the unique collaboration between Wilder and
Lemmon. Hope Holiday, who plays one of Bud’s bar pickups, is featured in a
short interview with anecdotes about the making of the movie. Of interest to
budding screenwriters is an archival interview with Wilder for the WGA Oral
Histories program on how he writes a script. Also included are
previously-released documentaries from 2007, Inside the Apartment, a making-of featurette, and Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon—but
now presented in high definition. A reverse sleeve on the jewel case presents
the original artwork for the film poster and newly commissioned artwork by
Academy is rapidly becoming one of the great classic film restorers on Blu-ray.
The Apartment is a testament to its quality-control.
Billy Wilder’s masterpiece (one of several!) is also a work of genius that, considering
today’s sexual politics, still stands the test of time.