Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis, Hope Holiday, Joan Shawlee
Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
A Billy "Some Like It Hot" Wilder Production.
Winner of five 1960 Academy Awards including Best Picture, The Apartment is legendary writer/director Billy Wilder at his scathing, satirical best, and "one of the finest comedies Hollywood has turned out" (Newsweek).
C.C. "Bud" Baxter (Jack Lemmon) knows the way to success in business ... it's through the door of his apartment! By providing a perfect hideaway for philandering bosses, the ambitious young employee reaps a series of undeserved promotions. But when Bud lends the key to big boss J.D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), he not only advances his career, but his own love life as well. For Sheldrake's mistress is the lovely Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), elevator girl and angel of Bud's dreams. Convinced that he is the only man for Fran, Bud must make the most important executice decision of his career: lose the girl ... or his job.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 125 min.
Release Date: 1/24/2012
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Bruce Block
• ďInside The ApartmentĒ Featurette
• ďMagic Time: The Art of Jack LemmonĒ Featurette
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The Apartment [Blu-Ray] (1960)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 6, 2012)
Back in the summer of 2000, I decided that the DVD Movie Guide needed a special page devoted solely to films that had won the Best Picture Oscar. This became a somewhat daunting task because we didnít offer reviews of many of these titles, but I took to it eagerly and we managed to put the page online within a few months.
At that time, there were a lot of gaps in the Best Picture DVD releases. By June 2001, the first ďcomplete decadeĒ occurred, as that monthís release of 1960ís The Apartment finished off all 10 flicks from that span.
In a way, itís ironic that such a tumultuous decade finished up with one of its quieter films. As a comedic drama - or a dramatic comedy, if youíd like - The Apartment lacks the broad scope and scale of subsequent Best Picture winners like Lawrence of Arabia or The Sound of Music. It also doesnít attempt to provide the social commentary of In the Heat of the Night or Midnight Cowboy.
That doesnít make it inferior, however, as it provides a strong effort. The movie concentrates on the semi-pathetic little life of insurance clerk CC ďBudĒ Baxter (Jack Lemmon). Heís just one small fish in a huge pond, as the Manhattan-based company for which he works maintains a payroll of more than 30,000. Baxter wants to get ahead, but his meek demeanor doesnít really lend itself to advancement. However, as the film starts, we discover heís found a way to gain the attention and affection of some superiors: he allows them to use his apartment as the site of their extramarital trysts.
While this works well for his career positioning, it does little for Baxterís own social life, or it would affect him if he had one. Most of his evenings at home are spent in front of the TV, so the main negative effect spurred by the manner in which others use his apartment stems from the fact he often is left out in the cold Ė literally - and he becomes ill.
While this agreement may make Baxter look rather conniving, thatís not really the case. While heís eager to reap the career benefits of his lending scheme, itís prospered mainly because heís such a schmoe who canít say ďnoĒ. He desperately wants to stand up to his higher-ups and regain control of his apartment - at least for an evening - but he canít muster the backbone to do so.
Nonetheless, things seem to be going his way career-wise, and he also makes his move on a cute elevator operator named Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). Heís had his eye on her for quite some time, but he doesnít ask her out until he gets his promotion and starts to answer to Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). It seems that Sheldrake also wants access to Baxterís apartment, and he gives Bud two tickets to a Broadway show to keep him occupied.
Baxter uses these tickets to ask out Fran, and she agrees, though she indicates theyíll have to meet at the theater since she has a previous engagement. To the surprise of few, that earlier date is with the married Sheldrake; the two had a fling that he wants to continue. Weak-willed Fran submits and heads to Baxterís apartment with Sheldrake, while poor pathetic Bud waits alone in front of the theater. Despite that setback, he remains optimistic about his future in the company and with Fran, but things eventually become more complicated.
Iíll leave the remaining plot developments out of my review; I think many of them are predictable, but I still prefer to avoid any additional potential spoilers. Despite a storyline that often seems unsurprising, I really like The Apartment, as it provides a compelling and well-executed piece of work.
Key to the filmís success is the deft way that it straddles comedy and drama. The movie begins as little more than a farce along the lines of director Billy Wilderís earlier work like 1955ís The Seven Year Itch and 1959ís Some Like It Hot. That comment shouldnít be regarded as a criticism of the prior films, since both were very entertaining and well made. I mention them just because a viewer new to The Apartment will likely feel that it fits in snugly with those movies.
However, as the plot complicates, the dramatic level escalates, and we find out just how troubled Fran really is. Sheís a woman with extremely low self-esteem who really seems to dislike herself, and her feelings motivate her behavior. Good-natured Baxter tries to help, but thereís really only so much he can do; some people just donít want to be saved.
Or do they? Iíll leave that plot point up in the air, but the manner in which Baxter and Fran get to know each other offers a twist from the usual fluffy romantic material. While the movie still offers some comedic moments, it becomes much more serious as it progresses and the complications amass.
In the hands of a lesser director, The Apartment could - and probably should - have been a mess. However, Wilder manages to dance between the humor and the pathos and make both sides of the coin believable and effective. Though the filmís second half does become more serious, the picture lacks any form of abrupt change of pace. Instead, Wilder gently moves it into a different direction, and the shift works nicely.
It helps that The Apartment features a strong cast, though frankly, I canít say that Iím wild about Lemmonís performance as Baxter. He handles the screwball comedic aspects of the role well, but he doesnít alter his tone strongly enough as the story turns dramatic. As such, he still seems rather broad and over-the-top when the part calls for a quieter tone. Iím not greatly dissatisfied with Lemmonís work, as I think he still makes the role compelling and endearing, but I feel he should have taken a more subdued tone and mugged less as the film progressed.
On the other hand, MacLaine is virtually perfect as Fran. Iíve never been a fan of her work, and Iíve usually openly disliked the woman. However, I must acknowledge that sheís almost flawless as Fran. MacLaine nimbly communicates the wounded inner core of the character without becoming maudlin or excessively sentimental. She maintains a cold distance from the world, a tone that seems absolutely appropriate for such a sad, hurt person. MacLaine also manages to keep her adequately chipper and lively when necessary, so Fran doesnít degenerate into an emotional mess.
Honestly, the caliber of MacLaineís performance stuns me. Iíve known women like Fran, and the accuracy she lends to the role floors me. She nails the part so well that itís genuinely spooky; there were times I felt as though I was watching those past acquaintances. How hammy old Liz Taylor beat her for Best Actress makes no sense to me.
Well, at least Lemmon and MacLaine were nominated for Oscars, as was Jack Kruschenís supporting turn as Doctor Dreyfuss. Poor MacMurray didnít even get any form of Academy recognition for his solid work as the scheming Sheldrake. By this point in his career, MacMurray was becoming established as the genial family man we know from TVís My Three Sons - which premiered in 1960 just a few months after The Apartment hit movie screens - and flicks like 1959ís The Shaggy Dog. When MacMurray worked against type in Wilderís 1944 classic Double Indemnity, I thought he seemed laughably unconvincing.
My biggest problem with Indemnity related to MacMurray, which was why I was pleased to see his work in The Apartment. I think MacMurray succeeds as Sheldrake because the role is just a small twist on his usual character. Heís still a family man, but heís a fairly sleazy one who thinks nothing of cheating on his wife. He displays no qualms when he needs to lie to women, and he happily uses them with no apparent effect on his conscience.
MacMurray resists any urges to provide a warmer side to Sheldrake. He makes the character bright and personable enough to allow us to believe women would be attracted to him, but he keeps him cold and hard enough to avoid excessive charm; we need to remain attached to Baxter. MacMurray really excels in the role as he creats a realistic character who seems scummy but who avoids cartoonish elements.
If I have any complaint about The Apartment, itíd relate to the filmís length. At 125 minutes, it isnít excessive, but I think it probably could have been shortened a bit. Nonetheless, the movie seems like a strong piece of work that provides a well-executed combination of comedy and drama.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B
The Apartment appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though a bit erratic, the image was usually positive.
I thought the majority of the image appeared crisp and well-defined. Some softness occasionally interfered, however, and a handful of shots seemed somewhat fuzzy and bland. Nonetheless, the majority of the movie displayed good definition, and I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, but some light edge haloes appeared.
Source flaws also remained modest. Periodic specks cropped up, but these were small and acceptably infrequent. Blacks came across as quite deep and tight, and contrast was a strength. Low-light shots also demonstrated nice clarity and dimensionality. Between the softness and the print defects, this was a ďBĒ image, but much of it seemed much stronger than that.
For this Blu-ray, The Apartment featured a modern DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix. Which begs the question: why? This was a chatty character piece, not something that Iíd think would need a dynamic multichannel track.
And that thought was supported by the low-key nature of the soundfield. Much of the material essentially remained monaural. Music sometimes broadened to the sides, but not with any real stereo imaging; the score used the side speakers in a manner that failed to muster much instrumental delineation. Some effects were more clearly localized, as speech and a few other specific elements occasionally came from the sides. However, those examples were infrequent, and surround usage also didnít contribute much; a few shots at bars or the office added chatter and other bits, but most of the flick stayed focused on the front center.
Dialogue sounded clear and acceptably natural. In a manner typical for the era, speech seemed a little thin at times, but I detected no concerns related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects were also clear and decently realistic, and they lacked problems related to distortion.
Music seemed to be similarly clean and bright. The mix delivered no substantial dynamic range, but it replicated the score and incidental music with acceptable accuracy. I heard no concerns related to background noise or source flaws. Overall, the soundtrack to The Apartment served the movie in an adequate manner.
How did this Blu-ray compare with the 2008 Special Edition DVD? Audio was a wash, as I didnít think the lossless DTS mix was able to do much to improve on the DVDís mix. In a disappointing move, the Blu-ray dropped the original monaural track that appeared on prior releases.
As for visuals, they showed the standard improvements. The Blu-ray looked tighter and better defined than the DVD, and blacks were deeper. Even with the minor problems I saw, the Blu-ray was a notable upgrade over the DVD.
The Blu-ray replicates the DVDís extras. We open with an audio commentary from film historian Bruce Block. He offers a running, screen-specific chat that looks at cast and crew facts, script and story topics, interpretation of the piece, cinematography, sets and locations, and a mix of other production elements.
I wouldnít call this a great commentary, but itís consistent informative and enjoyable. Block digs into the movie well and balances the interpretation with the facts in a satisfying manner. The track adds to our knowledge of the film.
Next we find two featurettes. Inside The Apartment lasts 29 minutes, 36 seconds as it mixes movie clips, archival elements and interviews. We hear from Wilder Times author Kevin Lally, The Essentials co-host Molly Haskell, Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne, executive producer Walter Mirisch, On Sunset Boulevard author Ed Sikov, USC film professor Drew Casper, screenwriterís son Paul Diamond, actorís son Chris Lemmon, Jack Lemmon biographer Joe Baltake, author/film historian Robert Porfirio, and actors Shirley MacLaine, Hope Holiday, Edie Adams, and Johnny Seven. ďInsideĒ looks at director Billy Wilder, what led him to the film and what inspired the story. It then goes into thoughts about society circa 1960, co-writer IAL Diamond and his influence on the project, the flickís tone, cast, characters and performances, some script topics, sets and visual design, some scene specifics, and the filmís reception.
It comes as little surprise that a moderate amount of information repeats from Blockís commentary. Nonetheless, ďInsideĒ offers enough new information to become worthwhile. Although it never quite becomes a great program, it offers a nice take on the movie.
For the 12-minute and 47-second Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon, we get notes from Chris Lemmon, Baltake, Casper, Osborne, Haskell, Holiday, and Lally. ďArtĒ looks at the life and career of Jack Lemmon, along with thoughts about his talents as an actor. Much of the piece tends toward praise for Lemmon. It throws out some decent insights along the way, but the tone is a little too fluffy for my liking.
In addition to the filmís trailer, the disc opens with a promo for Dances with Wolves.
As a movie, The Apartment was a fine piece of work. Director Billy Wilder created a film that provided both satisfying comedy and drama, and he melded these elements together in a neat and believable package. Even had the rest of the flick collapsed, however, The Apartment would have merited a viewing due to a stunning performance from Shirley MacLaine. Lord knows I never thought Iíd type those words, for Iíve never been able to stand most of her work, but I canít deny the extremely high caliber of acting she displayed here.
For the most part, the Blu-ray provides a good replication of the film. Picture quality is good to excellent, and though the 5.1 remix seems superfluous, it works fine. I miss the presence of the flickís original monaural track, however. We donít get many supplements, but they offer some good insights into the movie. The Blu-ray doesnít dazzle but itís a quality release for a strong film.
To rate this film visit the Collector's Edition review of THE APARTMENT