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Film Review: The Apartment
In 1960, Billy Wilder released The Apartment, starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis, Hope Holiday, Joan Shawlee, Naomi Stevens, Johnny Seven, Joyce Jameson, Hal Smith, Willard Waterman, David White, and Edie Adams. Grossing $24.6 million at the box office, the film was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) and Best Sound. It won the awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing (Original Screenplay), Best Film Editing and Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Black-and-White. The film was the basis of the 1968 Broadway musical Promises, Promises.
Though just an office drone, C. C. Baxter finds the solution to moving up the corporate ladder by letting the corporate bigwigs use his apartment for extramarital affairs. Though promoted, his boss, J. D. Sheldrake, gives him the condition that he lets him use the apartment for his own affair. However, Baxter finds that his crush, Fran Kubelik, is Sheldrake’s mistress.
The last black and white film to win Best Picture until 1993, The Apartment is a great film that’s also pretty amusing. It’s got a great story, featuring one of the lowly cogs in the corporate machine realizing that he’s not going to get anywhere on skill and merit alone, but that he’s got to find some way to get close to the higher ups. It just turns out that the only way he can get on their good sides is to let them use his apartment for their adulterous ways. But it presents a fascinating dichotomy in that while he moves up and gets successful at work, outside of the office he’s pretty much a doormat that has to sleep in the park whenever someone is using his place and his neighbors and landlady just see him as a womanizing playboy, thinking that his bosses are actually him. It appears that a big part of the story is Baxter needing to own up to himself and become a better person by not letting people walk all over him and instead be recognized for who he his rather than what he lets people do. It’s seen in the conversation with Dr. Dreyfuss telling him to grow up and be a man. Dreyfuss means it as a way of telling Baxter to stop being so loose, but Baxter instead takes the advice and stands up to Sheldrake, refusing to let the man use him as a doormat as well as string Kubelik along with false promises.
But what’s really interesting are all the corporate executives that use Baxter’s apartment. They take such advantage of him, to the point where he’s sleeping in the park, which results in a cold and fever, so they can constantly cheat on their wives. And none of them ever get any sort of comeuppance. Baxter gets punched in the face by Kubelik’s brother in law and the executives are outraged and act like they’ve been wronged when he pulls the rug out from under them when he stands up to Sheldrake and quits. It’s actually quite humorous to see them practically missing the forest for the trees and believing themselves to be put out by his refusal to play anymore. It makes for an interesting portrayal of how people who continually take advantage of other people don’t seem to realize that they’re in the wrong when it finally no longer benefits them. However, that’s just the lower executives as Sheldrake does get what’s coming to him in a very satisfying way, firing his secretary for telling Kubelik about his womanizing, only for her to tell his wife about it who throws him out.
In everything though, the film does give Baxter and Kubelik a good relationship that they had to fight for. It presents a difficult love triangle where Baxter loves Kubelik, who loves Sheldrake, who just wants some on the side. But after her attempted suicide and the care Baxter gives her as she recovers, Kubelik comes to see that Baxter actually cares about her while Sheldrake just wants to keep the charade up. It’s only during New Year’s Eve that Kubelik finds out that Baxter quit his job to help her fully realize it. It’s pretty heartwarming to see Baxter’s declaration of love met with Fran telling him to shut up and deal with a smile on her face.
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