Billy Wilder made so many classic films that it’s difficult to determine which one is his best. The Apartment, his 1960 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, has to be near the top of any list. Jack Lemmon, Wilder’s favorite actor, stars as C.C. Baxter, a cog in the big insurance company machine. In one of the film’s most striking shots, we see rows and rows of desks filled with busy insurance agents and right at the heart of it all is Lemmon’s everyman. C.C. is eager to get ahead in his company, so eager that he loans out his one bedroom bachelor pad to his various managers as a love nest where they can take their mistresses. C.C. is okay with the arrangement as long as he receives good reviews from his superiors.
After some finagling, C.C. finally gets the promotion he’s been waiting for. However, the company’s personnel director, Mr. Sheldrake, is suspicious that there’s something going on. When Sheldrake discovers the truth, he doesn’t have C.C. fired. Instead, he demands the use the apartment himself. McMurray, at the time best know for clean cut Disney films and his sentimental television series, My Three Sons, was reluctant to take the role of a real louse like Sheldrake. Wilder convinced him that it would be one of the best roles of his career. Never doubt Billy Wilder. Sheldrake sets out to conquest an adorable elevator operator named Fran, played with the right amount of spunk and naivete by Shirley MacLaine. Unfortunately, C.C. is also smitten with Fran. As the film progresses, C.C. has to decide what’s more important to him, his livelihood and career, or his heart and soul.
The Apartment is one of those films that defies categorization (Wilder, the great director, didn’t like to classify his movies). It has comedy, yes, but it’s also full of drama, romance and poses enough serious questions to leave us with something substantial to ponder after the movie fades to black. The influence of this movie, co-written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, has been felt ever since its initial release. Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, from 2009, immediately comes to mind, as George Clooney’s Ryan Bingham could be the son of C.C. Baxter, struggling to retain a conscience in a corporate world.
The Blu-ray release of The Apartment is a nice transfer of the movie, maintaining the crispness and subtleties of the black and white cinematography. The sound is crystal clear and does not contain any hiss that sometimes accompanies older films. The bonus features are minimal, but excellent. Audio commentary by film producer and historian, Bruce Block, adds great insight to the movie. Two featurettes are also included, one about the making of the film, the other a nice look at the artistry of Jack Lemmon, one of the true legends of the silver screen.
Blu-ray owners looking to expand their collections should include this one on their next shopping list. The Apartment isn’t just one of Wilder’s best, but one of the best ever.