DISMEMBERCEMBER: The Apartment (1960)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Beth Waldron for suggesting this movie. This was originally posted on March 27, 2022. This is also a New Year’s movie!

The Apartment is astounding because it makes me consider how we view actors based on where we arrive in reality. For me, Fred McMurray is the kind Steve Douglas from TV’s My Three Sons. For those born before 1960, they probably saw him on that show and wondered how the heel from Double Indemnity and The Caine Mutiny could be trusted around three growing children.

In Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, he’s Jeff Sheldrake, a man who uses everyone he meets, like lonely C.C. “Bud” Baxter (Jack Lemmon) for his apartment and Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) for her body, uncaring when he pushes both of their to the pit of depression and even a suicide attempt by Fran.

Bud is willing to let the rest of the world see him as the villain, as every executive — Ray Walston is one of them  — uses his home to have dalliances with his secret lovers while he drinks in bars, dreaming of taking home a married woman when all he really wants is the kind of secure love that allows you to sit happily on the couch next to one another and play cards.

There’s also a genuine sadness at the heart of this movie, as Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond based the film on reality, as high-powered agent Jennings Lang was shot by producer Walter Wanger for having an affair with Wanger’s wife Joan Bennett. Lang had used a low-level employee’s apartment for the affair, just like the film. Diamond also contributed something that had happened to a friend, who returned home after breaking up with his girlfriend to discover that she had committed suicide in his bed.

Back to McMurray. After this was released, women yelled at him in the street, complaining that he had made a filthy movie. One even hit him with her purse. I guess that was the Twitter of 1960.

This may be the best awarded movie we’ve talked about on this site, as it won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction and Best Film Editing at the 1960 Oscars. Jack Lemmon may not have won Best Actor, but when Kevin Spacey won that award in 1999 for American Beauty, he dedicated his Oscar to him, as Sam Mendes had the cast watch this movie for inspiration.

Since then, The Apartment has been remade as a musical (Promises, Promises, which played in 1972 and was revived in 2010) and as two Bollywood movies, Raaste Kaa Patthar and Life in a… Metro.

The amazing thing is that 62 years after this movie was made, it reduced me to tears. It pulled me in and made me care about every single character, even the villain, and the closing scene — and that last line! — absolutely devastated me.

You can get The Apartment from Kino Lorber either on blu ray or 4K UHD. You’ll also get two different audio commentary tracks, one by Joseph McBride, author of Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge and the other by film historian Bruce Block. There’s also a documentary about the making of the film and another about the art of Jack Lemmon, plus a trailer.

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