One night, many, many years ago, my father showed me his favorite film for the first time. I wish I could tell you that I remember that viewing concretely, but the truth is, I don’t. I’ve seen this film so many times, I can’t even remember when the original viewing was, let alone what my first impressions were.
I do, however, remember a viewing from when I was in high school. Something clicked that time, resonated with me on a deeper level. But before I get to all that, a little background. The Apartment, made in 1960, was written and directed by Billy Wilder. If you’re not familiar, he’s responsible for some of the best films of the last century such as Sunset Blvd., Ace in the Hole, and Some Like it Hot. He was known for his snappy dialogue and his satirical edge.
As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, Billy Wilder was influenced to make The Apartment after seeing David Lean’s Brief Encounter. When the couple in Brief Encounter tried to use a friend’s apartment, Billy Wilder got stuck on the friend. What was his life like? With I.A.L. Diamond, he wrote a screenplay about that friend, giving life to Bud “C.C.” Baxter.
The hero, or I should say lead, of The Apartment is C.C Baxter (Jack Lemmon), an ambitious clerk in a major New York insurance company. His superiors at the company use his apartment for their mistresses and he gets promotions. But, all of that becomes complicated when C.C. finds out that the head of his department, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) has been taking the elevator girl he’s in love with, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), to his apartment.
This film works for many reasons. But, one of the major reasons is Jack Lemmon. It’d be too easy to say it had nothing to do with writing, but by the same token, the character would not be the same without him. He was one of those actors that you could just, one hundred percent, relate to. He felt like a real person and could go from comedy to tragedy in a second.
It’s also very fun to see Fred MacMurray play a role as a bad guy, considering he made his image was very much based on playing the good guy. It seems that Wilder liked to see him as the bad guy though, considering MacMurray also played the lead in one of Wilder’s other acclaimed films, Double Indemnity.
Shirley MacLaine was just 24 when she played Fran Kubelik. Growing up, I was always jealous of her seemingly effortless beauty. It was only as I got older that I understood the character had a lot of problems. Her performance is at times heartbreaking, understated, and hilarious. She is very much like Jack in that way, a chameleon of sorts, able to play more than one note at a time.
I’m not very religious and neither are my parents and I think that’s partly why The Apartment is my go-to film to watch during the holiday season. It’s not about god or Christmas or Hanukkah or any of that. At its heart, it’s about people. Not good people or bad people, but complicated people, real people. It’s also a film about loneliness and the fact that we all need people to lean on. One message I took away from the film is that there is no shame in asking for help; that asking doesn’t make us weak, but instead, makes us human.
My family and I consistently watch this movie. I even saw it last year at the TCM Film Festival. It’s just one of those timeless films that doesn’t get old no matter how many times you watch it. Vintage trailer below.
And that’s they way it crumbles, cookie-wise…