Volker Schlöndorff and Frédéric Bonnaud
Mixing comedy and drama is notoriously hard, but The Apartment makes it look easy. Like a perfectly balanced Martini, the film has just enough emotion to offset the numbing dryness of its cynicism; like the best sweet-and-sour sauce, it never lets sentiment overpower tartness, or vice versa. The result is one of Billy Wilder’s most satisfying and enduringly beloved films. Amid its merciless satire and ebullient charm, it has moments so painful they leave you winded as from a blow to the solar plexus; a moment later you’re laughing. Inspired by a misremembered incident in Brief Encounter (1945), Wilder turned prurient curiosity about a man who would opportunistically lend his home for adulterous trysts into a surprisingly heartfelt defense of simple decency. Jack Lemmon, at his funniest and most touching, plays a man who tries his best to conform to a shallow, crass, and shamelessly sexist culture. Shirley MacLaine injects bracing wit into a victim of this culture – a woman who seems to stand outside herself, commenting sharply on her own pathos. They are surrounded by a cast of supporting characters drawn with the springy, sizzling line of Al Hirschfeld’s caricatures, all speaking Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s gleefully smart and jazzy dialogue. The art direction by Alexandre Trauner (the veteran designer of Les Enfants du Paradis), paired with the incisive black-and-white widescreen cinematography of Joseph LaShelle, creates a rich, authentic evocation of midcentury New York, from the vast, soul-killing office – a visual quotation from King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928) – to the lived-in hominess of the titular apartment. Wilder walked away with three Academy Awards (for best screenplay, direction, and picture), and left audiences with the most hilariously depressing Christmas Eve on record, the most poignant card game, and easily the most entertaining preparation of spaghetti.
Imogen Sara Smit
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond. F.: Joseph LaShelle. M.: Daniel Mandell. Scgf.: Alexandre Trauner. Mus.: Adolph Deutsch. Int.: Jack Lemmon (C.C. Baxter), Shirley MacLaine (Fran Kubelik), Fred MacMurray (Jeff Sheldrake), Ray Walston (Joe Dobisch), Jack Kruschen (dottor Dreyfuss), David Lewis (Al Kirkeby), Hope Holiday (Margie MacDougall), Joan Shawlee (Sylvia), Naomi Stevens (Mildred Dreyfuss), John Seven (Karl Matuschka). Prod.: Billy Wilder per The Mirisch Company. DCP. D.: 125’. Bn.
If you like this, we suggest:
Martin Scorsese, Olivia Harrison and Margaret Bodde (The Film Foundation)
REVENGE OF THE CREATURE 3D