The Apartment


Here is my review of The Apartment, otherwise known as the film that won best picture in 1960 whereas Psycho was not even nominated. Regardless of how I feel about that, I was really impressed by The Apartment. I have really gotten to like Billy Wilder’s stuff lately; the kinds of stories he tells usually resonate with me and his humor is terrific. The Apartment has both of these elements and more: an interesting premise, memorable characters, great performances, social commentary, and lots of sincere emotion.

CC Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is the owner of the apartment in the title. He has clumsily allowed the higher-ups in the company he works for, Consolidated Life, to take over it and his life. They use it for a love nest, bringing their girlfriends there because they can’t bring them home. This causes Baxter all sorts of problems, when one of the boss’s rendezvous goes past the scheduled time he is forced to sleep outside all night. He gets a cold, but still goes into work the next day. He may have stayed home, but because the boss forgot to leave the key he couldn’t even get in. Once he’s at work he has to stay there of course, but ends up running into a scheduling problem with the apartment that he has to work out.

The reason Baxter allows himself to be subjected to all of this is sort of explained as a hope for promotion, but what it really is is an inability to say no. It’s a classic situation where somebody asked for a favor one time, and everybody else asked after. Once he said yes to one guy, he has to say yes to everybody else that asks too. After awhile though, the executives begin to take him and his apartment for granted and feel that it’s their right to use it. They subtly threaten him with firing him if he doesn’t go along, and even try to get revenge when he seriously cannot leave his apartment. They ask “what has he done for us lately?” and the answer is: let you use his apartment while he waits outside in the dark, cold and alone. He does eventually get promoted, twice, but is it worth it?


On the way up to the twenty-seventh floor for his first promotion, he meets Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), a spunky young woman who works as an elevator operator. They hit it off pretty quickly, and with his promotion Baxter got free theater tickets because he had to surrender the use of his apartment once again, he invites Miss Kubelik to go with him on the way down. Little does he know that the boss, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) is planning taking Miss Kubelik to the apartment. She thought their affair was over, but he has other plans. She agrees to go with Baxter because she thinks that they’re just going to talk for a bit and that’ll be the end of that, but she allows herself to be taken in by him again. This leaves Baxter in the unenviable position of being kicked out of his house and without a date. Alone and in the cold. Again.

Miss Kubelik is also in the dark about the fact that she has been taken to the apartment of someone she actually knows and could potentially have a connection with. This is where things get real suspenseful and real tragic, real fast. Basically you have these situations that come up where both Miss Kubelik and Baxter don’t  know what the other one knows or don’t know what the audience knows. Wilder lets them find out without actually talking about it; he focuses in on objects to tell the story. Fran’s mirror, for example. She leaves it at the apartment, then Baxter gives it back to Sheldrake, Sheldrake gives it back to Fran, then Fran lets Baxter use it for some reason and at last he knows the awful truth! But then she doesn’t know that he knows, which gives some terrific tension.

Even though this film is technically a comedy, it’s a very sad movie. I sort of relate it to Silver Linings Playbook because that film is a romantic comedy, but with a sort of dark undercurrent because the main character is so unstable. The Apartment is like SLP in that it’s also a romantic comedy, but the two romantic leads never really look out for themselves in various ways because they are so concerned with Mr. Sheldrake’s wants. After Fran has an accident, she has to stay at the apartment for awhile, and Baxter tells everybody that shows up that she was here to see him, which is not true. He is always trying to protect Sheldrake because he’s his boss even though the man simply does not deserve it. Fran goes along with it too, because she loves him even though she probably doesn’t even like him personally. It’s kind of hard to explain, because she says she loves him and that seems all there is to it, but I had a hard time buying that. I’m not sure if she loves him just because he’s the boss, but it’s possible. All the same, they try to be as nice to each other as possible, but still end up serving a higher master.

spaghettiwiseI saw this as the main point of the film, that people with more power than you will not hesitate to take advantage of your dependence. I mean, not everybody in this film does it, but most of them do. Sheldrake uses Baxter and Kubelik and they let him get away with it for almost the whole film, when you know that in this type of movie they should just be falling for each other. They are, but they don’t really take that into account until the last moments of the film. They both need to find more empowerment so they can stop being completely overawed by the boss figure. A lot of times, Baxter will talk about his life in terms of insurance. When he’s not actually working, he’s scheduling things for the executives using the apartment. I don’t really want to say it’s a simple as him being a workaholic, I think it’s more that his life is so empty that his job is really all he has. And the nature of that job is just to swallow him up whole, and give nothing back to him except more of the job.

Jack Lemmon did a fantastic job in this movie. I had seen him in Some Like It Hot so I already knew he was hilarious, and he is very funny in this movie as well. He has so much more depth in this film though; he has to be sad and angry as well. As soon as his voice over started, I was totally behind him and rooting for him the whole time. Even when he did things that I did not approve of, I understood why and I still loved the guy. He’s so funny and has such an empty life that I really wanted him to succeed. MacMurray did a good job of being a total sleezebag, helped along by the fact that I don’t much like him anyway. MacLaine was also very good, and similar to my experience with Lemmon I had only seen her in a comedy before: The Trouble with Harry. She used the same sort of quirkiness here, but also had a greater range of emotions so that I really felt for her as well. She also has a great chemistry with Lemmon and I know they made another film (Irma la Douche) with Wilder as the director which I must check out one of these days.

The thing I appreciate most about The Apartment is that it manages to use the romantic comedy set up and add something more to it to tell an actual story with complex characters. So many fail to do that, and if they did they would be much better film and people wouldn’t scorn the genre so much. Most of the credit goes to the writers, I think, because they created this great story with a larger meaning that you can absorb pretty easily without feeling preached to and that is also really funny and really tragic at times. I appreciate the writing so much I will actually mention their names: Wilder himself and I.A.L. Diamond who  also wrote Some Like It Hot together. The Apartment won five academy awards: best art direction, best picture, best director, best original screenplay, and editing. It was nominated for five more: Lemmon for best actor, Jack Kruschen who played a neighbor for best supporting actor, best actress for MacLaine, cinematography, and sound. Whether it should have been honored instead of Psycho remains to be seen, but regardless it is a fantastic film with a lot to say.


“I said I had no family; I didn’t say I had an empty apartment.”

Long story short: 4/4 stars

4 responses to “The Apartment

  1. omg jack lemmon! love him…hes so cute. plus straining spaghetti with a tennis racket ftw. almost as good as making grilled cheese with an iron.

    • He is so adorable in this film. That tennis racket thing is pretty awesome.
      Also, it’s his birthday today, fun fact!
      It’s a really good movie and you should definitely see it.

      • i might. oh man i just realized he was in the odd couple! thats a fun movie…oh and grumpy old men, with the guy from the odd couple! oh man and glengarry glen ross…wow ive seen him in a bunch of stuff.

        • Jack Lemmon is awesome. So hilarious. I have only seen him in this and Some Like It Hot but that will soon change. Mark my words!

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