03 March 2011

Review | The Apartment

Ever since I first saw it as a teenager, I have been in love with
The Apartment (1960). Perhaps it was the opening shots of Manhattan that cemented my love, or maybe the loveable character of C.C. Baxter played by the wonderful Jack Lemmon. Possibly it came down to the pin-sharp script or the perfection of Shirley Maclaine. In hindsight, I think it was simply a blend of all of the above.

The Apartment tells the story of C.C Baxter (Jack Lemmon), an insurance man who works on the nineteenth floor for a firm based in Manhattan. He finds himself popular amongst the firm's executives for his apparent willingness to lend out his apartment for them to entertain their secretaries and mistresses. As he begins to climb up the corporate ladder, he falls in love with Fran Kubelik (Shirley Maclaine), an elevator girl who happens to be in love with one of the executives. You can imagine the rest.

The film swings between comedy and drama, dealing with serious themes for the time such as adultery and suicide (which was still illegal in 1960). It captures the monotony of office life perfectly, with the unbearable din of the typewriters and the dreary lights in the suspended office ceiling stretching to infinity behind Baxter. We understand why he is attracted to Fran, whose bright and sunny disposition is a perfect contrast to the tedium of his everyday life.

I adore this film. If a gun was put to my head and I was forced to name my all time favourite movie,
The Apartment might well be it (It swings between this, The Godfather and Annie Hall). For me, great film-making is all about the script. And this film has a humdinger of a screenplay. The words bite and sink their teeth. That last line will forever be etched in my consciousness.

Watching it in 2011, it is obvious how influenced
Mad Men creator, Matt Weiner is by The Apartment. From the staging of the office scenes through to the clothes, characters and what comes out of their mouths, it all has a definite hint of Draper & co. Filmmakers who channel Wilder include Sam Mendes, whose American Beauty had much to owe to this and Wilder's other gem, Sunset Boulevard. Despite some of the issues in The Apartment belonging very much in 1960, it seems that the essence of the film and its maker still shines brightly. To quote Baxter, "I guess that's the way it crumbles, cookie-wise."