60 Second Movie Review: The Apartment (1960)
August 13, 2012 5 Comments
The Apartment is one of those classic films that I kept intending to watch, but never quite got around to viewing. I started it once, a couple years ago, but my then-girlfriend was less of a fan of old movies than I am. That’s fair enough, but her tentative interest made me extra sensitive to the slower pace of this particular Billy Wilder flick. The Apartment doesn’t have the same rapid-fire wit and gags of Some Like It Hot, which was released the year before, but it’s deeply pleasurable in its own right, and definitely lifted me out of the doldrums when I went to see it at the Stanford Theatre on a Tuesday evening in August.
Be warned…possible spoilers inside once you step inside…
The centerpiece is Jack Lemon, who stars as C.C. Baxter, a corporate cog who thinks he’s climbing the ladder by playing the game — not realizing that he’s operating in a business world which only pays lip service to meritocracy. It’s actually a class system, where people are mostly interchangeable parts. Baxter is the one being used, by a whole cadre of married executives who want to use his apartment in order to host their affairs.
The visual representation of this corporate bureaucracy is appropriately representative of our machine-like existence.
Lemon (seated at Desk #861) plays the nebbish to perfection, and he falls for the pablum promoted by his superiors.
SHELDRAKE: An insurance company is founded on public trust.
Boy, does that line ring with just as much irony today as it ever did. And yes, that’s Fred MacMurray from My Three Sons as Jeff D. Sheldrake. If Double Indemnity gave MacMurray the opportunity to play tormented depths, then The Apartment gives him the chance to play the absence of depths — a shallow man willing to say whatever is needed to get what he wants, without a conscience.
Other than C.C., it’s the women we see suffering in this film, at the whim of the men in their lives because they have limited opportunities for economic self-sufficiency.
FRAN: How could I be so stupid? You’d think I would have learned by now — when you’re in love with a married man, you shouldn’t wear mascara.
That’s Shirley MacLaine at her most charming, simultaneously down-to-earth as somehow ethereal. The Apartment is like Fran, both sharp and tender.
FRAN: Some people take, some people get took — and they know they’re getting took — and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Fran is celebrated for her independence and yet (of course) she still needs a man to be complete, and there’s a tinge of moral approbation tossed at consensual adult sexy time for singles, even though the movie is sympathetic to suicide attempts and understands that we’re not always in charge of our desires. It’s the facade of family values done for show that is skewered the most. I love Sheldrake in his new Christmas morning bathrobe, with the tag still on. What a potent symbol of how we manufacture perfect families via consumerism.
I couldn’t help comparing the depictions to Mad Men’s recent conceptualization of New York City business in the 1960s, which borrows much of the focus on alcohol and affairs. It’s definitely a different world, if only because rent in New York City was $85 a month — up from $80 a month because they just installed air conditioners.
As you’d expect with Billy Wilder, the lines are as crisp as crisp can be.
MARGIE: ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring — nothing! No action — Dullsville!
Even though it’s not fast, the timing is exquisite throughout. What a pleasure it must have been for the actors to be able to say these lines. And play the whole through line of changing emotions and circumstances.
I did wonder at the scene with Fran running through the streets on New Year’s Eve. I only have vague memories of Bill Crystal’s character doing something similar in When Harry Met Sally. Is running-through-the-streets-on-New-Year’s-Eve a common film trope?
I also wondered at myself. I’m usually pretty cynical when it comes to that scripted Hollywood love story, but I totally fell for this sap. But really — can you blame me for falling for these two, their card-playing, and the champagne?