(United States, 1960)
The Apartment was under consideration for my Top 100 when I first compiled the list. It missed the final cut - not because it was "unworthy" but because my memory was untrustworthy. It had been at least a decade since I had seen the movie and I didn't remember it being as good as it is. Upon re-watching it for a 2006 review, I was astonished at how much more there was in the movie than my memory had indicated. This is a film of great warmth, humor, and pathos. The performances by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are among the best of their careers and the writing/direction by Billy Wilder is top-notch. So, having re-connected with this gem of a motion picture, I now find it impossible to leave it off the Top 100.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The film opens with a dose of satiric social commentary. There are many ways to get ahead in the business world. The preferred way, which is often a myth, is to put in long hours and work hard. Baxter, however, has found an alternative - all he has to do is provide "favors" to the executives in the Manhattan insurance company where he works. Three of them - Mr.Dobsich (Ray Walston), Mr.Vanderhoff (Willard Waterman), and Mr. Eichelberger (David White) - are married and looking for a convenient location where they can bring dates for after-work assignations. Baxter's apartment is perfect, and they reach an agreement with him. In return for favorable performance reviews, they get the apartment for a few hours a week. When the big boss, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), learns of the agreement, he wants in. Like the others, he has a mistress, and he's in a position to really help Baxter's career. Soon after lending his key to Mr. Sheldrake, Baxter gets his own office, and has moved into the fast lane. But there's a complication: Sheldrake's girlfriend is elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), a woman Baxter would like nothing better than to get to know. She's being used by Sheldrake, and Baxter knows it.
The Apartment came at the end of Billy Wilder's most fruitful period as a director. The film was widely recognized by the Academy, with ten nominations (five wins). It was Wilder's final nomination (and victory) for Best Director. He would receive only one more nomination, as a screenwriter for 1966's The Fortune Cookie. There are those who believe The Apartment represents Wilder at his most complete - seamlessly weaving the lighthearted and the serious without encountering a snarl or tangle. My personal preference is Sunset Blvd, but I'll acknowledge that The Apartment is in the upper echelon not only of Wilder's personal canon, but of all the films made during this era.
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