Title: The Apartment
Release Date: 15 June, 1960
Oscar Ceremony: 17 April, 1961
Director: Billy Wilder
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine & Fred MacMurray
Nominees: The Alamo, Elmer Gantry, Sons and Lovers, The Sundowners
“When you’re in love with a married man, you shouldn’t wear mascara.” – Fran
What a gem of a film. If you’ve ever been confused by the term “dramedy,” watch The Apartment and you will finally understand its meaning. I’ve never seen the two genres combined so seamlessly. Get ready to cope with an intense blend of laughter, smiles, tears, frustration, anger, sickness and second-hand embarrassment, all in the span of 2 short hours.
As you can see, this is another black and white movie on the list. HOWEVER, it happens to be the last one until Schindler’s List (winner during the 1994 ceremony). Nonetheless, the lack of colour here did not bother me one bit. In The Apartment, Jack Lemmon plays C.C. “Bud” Baxter, an average guy with an average desk job in New York City. In the hopes of eventually climbing up the corporate ladder, Bud agrees to lend his Upper West Side apartment to some of the men at the office who want to bring women there so their wives don’t get suspicious. In the meantime, his neighbours think he’s an obnoxious, noisy playboy because of what they hear every night from his co-workers. Honourable man that he is, Bud keeps everything a secret and takes the blame. Things seem to be going in his favour as one day, the personnel director Mr. Sheldrake agrees to give him a promotion after all the good reports he’s received from the other men. However, he will only give it to him if he can borrow the apartment all the time. Poor Bud. I kept thinking to myself, is this really worth it? It seems like a huge hassle to be honest.
Aside from dealing with the struggles of getting promoted and figuring out the logistics of the never-ending apartment-lending schedule, Bud also has to get tangled up in love. He can’t help but fall for Fran (Shirley MacLaine), the cynically charming elevator operator in his office building. His pursuit is not an easy one though, as Fran seems to be hung up on another man. Once again, poor Bud.
Initially I thought the whole thing started off rather silly. While the setup was perfect for a classic comedy, it didn’t seem like it was about to go anywhere more substantial than that. I found myself getting pretty annoyed with Bud being such a pushover and with all the repetition. However, things eventually take a turn and you also start further reflecting on the issues at hand. Bud and Fran become characters that you develop deep sympathy for. They both get taken advantage of in different ways and you root for them to finally see that, put their foot down and realize that they deserve much more than what they settle for. I guess it’s easier said than done though; it’s a whole different story when you’re the one in that kind of situation. It’s not that easy to see clearly.
Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine have contagious chemistry. They’re not your usual Hollywood royalty couple, they’re no Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, but they’re so perfect in a very unique way. Shirley MacLaine has this wit about her that you just can’t help but smile at perpetually. In The Apartment, she also shows us that even strong women can suffer deeply. As for Jack Lemmon… what can I say? He’s possibly one of the most talented comedic actors I’ve ever seen. There’s just something about his mannerisms and facial expressions that makes him nail his act every single time. I often see good actors and then think to myself “oh I could also imagine so-and-so in this role,” but with Jack Lemmon it’s impossible. He’s one of a kind. At one point during the movie, he gets locked out of his apartment after one of the office men forgets to leave the key under the mat, so he ends up catching a cold while stranded outside. When he shows up to the office with a fever, he’s so good at acting sick that I felt I was getting sick too. I didn’t say anything; I just got up to make some tea and asked Julian if he wanted some. He said “Yes, because just looking at him makes me feel sick.” Yup.
Certain parts of the movie made me feel a bit uneasy, but now I realize that it’s part of what makes this movie so special. It GETS to you. It leaves a mark. Every Billy Wilder movie I’ve seen so far has been fantastic, and I’m excited to watch many more of them. I suggest you do too.