Dir. Billy Wilder; writ. Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond; feat. Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis (unrated)
A casual movie fan could perhaps be forgiven if, when filmmaking legend Billy Wilder died this March, he didn't understand what all the fuss was about. After all, Wilder didn't cultivate a public persona the way Alfred Hitchcock did, and his masterpieces weren't as easy to lump into one category as John Ford's westerns. From the film noir landmarks Double Indemnity and Sunset Blvd., to wartime jailbreaker Stalag 17, to screwball romps such as Some Like It Hot, Wilder was too good at everything to focus on a single genre.
Still, Wilder's best films show a distaste for cheap sentimentality and a knack for keeping his films human even when the scene they depict is pretty damned cynical. Take The Apartment, for instance: Jack Lemmon's C.C. Baxter — partly because he's weak-willed but also out of a desire to get ahead in his firm — has allowed his married co-workers to co-opt his bachelor pad for their weekly trysts. Poor Baxter can't come home from work each night until middle management is done shagging the steno girls.
If that's not enough, the sassy, self-assured elevator operator (played by MacLaine) for whom Baxter pines turns out to be one of the women somebody else is wooing in his home. Not just anybody, either, but the big boss-man himself, played with maximum sleaze by Fred MacMurray. Self-pity, shame, and disgust fill the air in the office and at home.
Not the most conducive environment for comedy, I'll grant you — which is why every laugh Wilder wrests from you is doubly pleasing. Some humor doesn't age well, but Wilder's zingers are so heavily salted that they're still biting four decades later. C.C. Baxter's Central Park-bordering abode may have cost $85 a month (!?!), but this Apartment is priceless.
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