Sunday, February 16, 2014

CANON OF FILM: "THE APARTMENT"

THE APARTMENT (1960)

Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond



“The Apartment,” earned Billy Wilder three Oscars, for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay, making him the first person to win those three Oscars for one film. (The only three others are Peter Jackson for “The Lords of the Rings: The Return of the King,” and the Coen Brothers for “No Country for Old Men”) Yet, somehow, “The Apartment,” hardly gets mentioned anymore as an essential in the Wilder canon, even by myself; but that’s partly because Wilder has so many great films that sometimes this one gets lost in the shuffle. (While I might not have posted them yet, this was probably only the fourth or fifth Wilder Canon of Film entry that I wrote) It doesn’t even get mentioned in its genre anymore, not among the best comedies, or romantic-comedies anymore. Its famous final line, is forgotten compared to the final lines of “Sunset Boulevard,” and “Some Like It Hot.” So, taking some time to watch it again, I reminded myself of just what makes this film as great as it is. I recalled it as a comedy, with the famous image of Jack Lemmon straining spaghetti with a tennis racquet. I recalled Fred MacMurray’s great supporting performance as a philandering husband whose Lemmon’s boss, I’d argue his best performance or his career. I remembered the images of the filled workroom full of desks, all looking the same. What I forgot was how the extraordinariness of those early scenes of a large company was slowly and surely whittled away with each member of se company’s workforce that we get introduced to. It’s a film with flawed characters, dealing with problems they know better than to be getting involved with. We get introduced first to C.C. “Buddy Boy,” Baxter (Jack Lemmon), who works as an efficiency expert on the 19th floor of an insurance company, and works overtime because he’s begun loaning out his apartment to fellow married co-workers to bring their mistresses, leaving the neighbors thinking he’s a sexpot playboy, while he catches a cold on a park bench and pines over the elevator girl, Fran Kubilek (Shirley MacLaine). Fran’s hit on by most of the building, even with the short hair she recently cut because her married ex, J.D. Sheldrake (MacMurray), the company’s boss liked it better long. Sheldrake drags his feet on his supposed divorce, and once he finds out about Buddy Boy and his apartment, C.C. quickly gets promoted. There’s a certain thoughtlessness in MacMurray’s character, that’s both cavalier and conniving that becomes an oddly fascinating performance; he’s obviously a true villain, but one who can surprise us. He, unlike the other characters, makes decisions without seeing the possible backlash. All the other character are all-too aware of their own actions. Fran’s been with Sheldrake before, but she falls for him again and again, not out of love but out of self-disrespect. C.C. knows he wouldn’t have gotten promoted if he hadn’t given out his apartment, but gives in to temptation more than once. The film is a comedy, especially in the beginning of the film, with strange site gags, and the satire on office life. Yet, I keep coming back to the love story of C.C. and Fran. Lemmon and MacLaine are perfect in their roles, but as characters in a movie, they don’t oblige to the typical romantic-comedy get-togethers. These characters are lonely characters. Sad, depressing characters in a world where cheer is surrounding them. It’s not ironic the majority of the film takes place at the end of December. They come together as much out of desperation as out of love, and someone to share their pains with. Both characters try, and fail at killing themselves, tired of being stuck with their positions in life. In hindsight, we forget the characters don’t even kiss, or even have a scene insinuating sex, just a little spaghetti, some coffee, and a deck of cards between them seems to be enough, for now. 
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