Back in the day, The Apartment** **scooped the Academy Awards, taking home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. It was a major hit and gets top ratings in all the movies-on-TV guides, yet it’s not often revived. Considered as a Billy Wilder movie, it has never become as admired as Double Indemnity or as beloved as Some Like It Hot.
Perhaps its relative obscurity is down to the lack of a movie icon. And maybe it’s that this comedy tells truths about American business and sexual morés as uncomfortable now as they were in 1960. However, since even committed Wilder fans are likely to have seen The Apartment only once, years ago on late-night television, this re-release reveals a fresher picture than many a classic you can recite by rote.
Made just after Some Like It Hot, the film has barbed jokes about the Marilyn-style blondes most of Jack Lemmon’s lecherous colleagues drag to his apartment for a quick shag, before they take the commuter train to their wives and families.
Lemmon, an everyman stranded in a sea of desks who spends more time juggling other people’s affairs than his job, shows the subtlety that marked the maturing of his manic comic personality MacLaine, with a serious haircut, embodies Wilder’s horrifying notion of what Marilyn’s screen character might be like if she were real (who, sadly, Monroe was never actress enough to play). Here MacLaine plays to perfection, heartbreaking with MacMurray and offbeat sexy with Lemmon.
Wilder fan Cameron Crowe recently lifted wholesale from The Apartment for the climax of Almost Famous, but the original walking-off-the-overdose scene is more affecting in the shift from farce, to sober drama, to bizarrely touching.