The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder)

While everyone is pretending to count down the minutes until the academy awards (I’m not convinced that most people care as much as they let on), we’ve declared February to be TCM Essentials Month, catching up on past Essentials (and yes, oscar winners) that we’ve missed. There’s nothing more essential than The Apartment, which is on every list of great American films made since it came out. Unsurprisingly, we both loved it (much better than Avanti!, that’s for sure).

Jack Lemmon works at an insurance company where all the executives are terrible connivers, cheating on their wives with floozies and office girls they bring to Lemmon’s apartment in exchange for the promise of promotions. He does a good job fitting in, pretending to be a selfish skirt-chasing careerist himself, even outside the office with his neighbors, but ultimately he’s too nice a guy. He’s got a crush on Shirley MacLaine (doing well for herself five years after Artists & Models), a sweet elevator operator who happens to be carrying on a long-term affair with big boss Fred MacMurray (weirdly in the midst of starring in family-friendly Disney films). It all goes wrong, Shirley attempts suicide in Lemmon’s apartment, and he (with his doctor/neighbor) nurses her back to health. All very intense and dark for what’s supposed to be a comedy.

I enjoyed a small Tashlinesque attack on television, as Lemmon tries to watch Grand Hotel on TV only to be put off by the constant commercials.

TCM sez:

Billy Wilder created in The Apartment what many consider the summation of all he had done on screen up to that point. He was the master of a type of bittersweet comedy that had a sadness and a barbed commentary of modern life at its core. … With this film, he managed to make a commercially successful entertainment that, for all its laughter and romance, took a serious stab at the prevailing attitudes and way of life of a country where getting ahead in business had become the greatest measure of personal success.

Won best picture, writing and directing, all for Wilder who did it all himself, but lost the acting awards for Lemmon, MacLaine and Jack Kruschen who played the neighbor/doctor. The writing especially was pretty wonderful, my favorite dialogue of any Wilder movie so far. Also did not win for its glorious b/w widescreen cinematography, which surprised me until I found out a Jack Cardiff movie won instead.