Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Jack Kruschen
Running Time: 125 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
Billy Wilder is a writer-director with several cast iron classics to his name. From creating the blueprint for film noir with Double Indemnity to taking aim at Hollywood with Sunset Boulevard and presenting a deeply cynical portrayal of the press with Ace in the Hole, he was knocking them out of the park within his first decade as a director in Hollywood. 1959 brought possibly his most famous film though, the cross-dressing comedy Some Like it Hot. It made a fortune at the time and remains hugely popular among audiences. I love the film too, but it’s his follow up that has always been my favourite, The Apartment, so I was thrilled to hear that Arrow were going to be giving the film their first class treatment on Blu-Ray in the UK.
The Apartment stars Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter, a lonely nobody who works for a huge insurance company. Keen to move up in the world, he greases the wheels by loaning his apartment to his superiors for their extramarital affairs. This works in terms of getting him a promotion, but it plays havoc with his life and health. The breaking point comes when he falls for elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), only to find out she’s his boss Jeff D. Sheldrake’s (Fred MacMurray) ‘bit on the side’ and has been brought up to his apartment. This situation takes a shocking turn half way through the film when Kubelik attempts suicide in Baxter’s apartment. After he saves her life and plays nursemaid to the troubled woman, he falls ever more in love and ever more angry at Sheldrake’s mistreatment of her. So Baxter reaches a point where he must decide whether to continue to be a lap dog to his superiors or be a mensch (a human being), as the honourable Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) puts it.
I’ve seen The Apartment several times and it’s long sat somewhere in the upper half of my list of top 100 films. With this latest viewing it’s unlikely to drop either. It’s perhaps the most effective comedy-drama I’ve seen, with both genres served at the highest of standards and the tightrope walk between them deftly balanced. For the most part, the first half is more comedy-heavy and the second more dramatic after the suicide attempt, but there are doses of both styles delivered throughout without ever feeling messy or out of character. And the film is genuinely funny, even nearly 60 years since its release, with some incredibly sharp dialogue and the subtle physical comedy of some of its cast members - Lemmon in particular. The drama and romance within it is genuinely touching too, with Kubelik’s story proving particularly powerful. Sheldrake’s treatment of her is despicable and all-too believable (even now with all of the abuse scandals being unearthed at the moment), allowing great sympathy towards the character. MacLaine’s superb performance only adds to that.
The writing and direction is so perfectly constructed too, with actions and lines to come being effortlessly set up throughout the film. It all leads to one of cinema’s most perfect endings. Some Like it Hot is famous for its closing line, but this trumps even that, not only with killer closing dialogue, but through managing to perfectly balance uplifting triumph, hints of tragedy, pitch black comedy and sweet yet underplayed romance in the space of a couple of minutes. It’s the perfect close to a perfect film.
Although Billy Wilder is probably praised more for his writing than his directing, The Apartment is proof that he was also a genius behind the camera. Not only does the film look great, with the help of film-noir cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, but a huge amount of the character building and storytelling is done visually through the film’s mis-en-scene. A clear example of this can be seen in the office scenes where Baxter first works. Using forced perspective, Wilder and his team made the main office look as though it stretched into infinity, making Baxter look small and insignificant and a simple cog in the machinations of the company. Wilder incorporates a lot of beautifully blocked out long takes too. I particularly like a couple of shots that follow Baxter out of his apartment as his superiors arrive, ‘floozy’ in hand, whilst he lurks in the dark corner of the screen.
I could ramble on for ever about the various qualities of the film, but I’m aware it’s been praised many times before and most of you will have already seen it. If you haven’t you must remedy that as soon as possible, particularly now there’s a gorgeous new HD print to check out. All I’ll say is it’s a wonderful film that’s Billy Wilder’s finest hour (or two) and that’s saying a lot.
The Apartment is out on 18th December in a limited edition Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Arrow Academy. The remastered print looks fantastic - clean, detailed and featuring a beautiful dynamic contrast range.
There’s a host of special features included in the set too. Here's the list:
- Limited Deluxe Edition Blu-ray [3000 copies]
- Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release
- Original uncompressed PCM mono audio
- Optional 5.1 remix in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Audio commentary with film producer and historian Bruce Block
- New appreciation of the film and select scene commentary by film historian Philip Kemp
- The Flawed Couple, a new video essay by filmmaker David Cairns on the collaborations between Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon
- Billy Wilder ABC, an overview by David Cairns on the life and career of the filmmaker, covering his films, collaborators and more
- New interview with actress Hope Holiday
- Inside the Apartment, a half-hour “making-of” featurette from 2007 including interviews with Shirley MacLaine, executive producer Walter Mirisch, and others
- Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon, an archive profile of the actor from 2007
- Original screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond (BD-ROM content)
- Theatrical trailer
- Special collector’s packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Ignatius Fitzpatrick
- Collector’s 150-page hardcover book featuring new writing by Neil Sinyard, Kat Ellinger, Travis Crawford and Heather Hyche, generously illustrated with rare stills and behind-the-scenes imagery
As you can see, there’s plenty to get through and it’s all solid. Some of the older pieces are a little fluffy with lots of praise and not so much insight, but everything here is still worth a watch and the newly recorded pieces are great. The commentary is a little dry, but helps you better appreciate some of the film’s qualities you may have missed at first glance. It’s the best package of the film you can get in the UK, that’s for sure.