The great director Billy Wilder could seem to do no wrong. After the fantastic success of Some Like It Hot (considered in most parties to be one of the greatest comedies of all time), Wilder released the dark comedy The Apartment. It is a tale full of infidelity, depression, loneliness and suicide. Yes, it’s a romantic comedy, not a tragedy.
Trying to find a leg up in his corporate job, desperate and ambitious C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) lends out his apartment to the upper executives of the company for their romantic trysts with their mistresses. This usually means he can’t go home and that his neighbours think he is a lothario. All this just for promises of a promotion. Of course the plan goes very wrong and right at the same time when he falls in love with Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), the beautiful and witty elevator girl who is having an affair with the boss who is promising the promotion.
Of course, who wouldn’t want to be promoted in an office job that is full of worker drones in desks made up of straight lines? Baxter is obviously just a faceless employee in a job where nobody cares about it. Wilder amazingly uses a forced perspective optical illusion to show the vastness of the office workers and the mind numbingly dull white room. The commentary, which is mirrored in Fran being used by Mr. Sheldrake, on the corporate world is still quite poignant in today’s society. We’re all just objects to be used to the big corporations.
The screenplay, full of witty banter and attention to detail, deserved the Oscar for Best Screenplay that it won. Written by Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond, the film flows and is almost a satire of office politics and even relationships. With the serious themes throughout the movie it is hard to imagine it would become one of the funniest movies ever created. This is due to the screenplay that manages to keep you entertained despite the cynicism and pathos it exudes.
C. Baxter, or ‘Buddy Boy’ as he’s un-affectionately called by his bosses is played by Jack Lemmon, in his second collaboration with Wilder. His portrayal of Baxter was very earnest and showed the best of him, bumbling around and gushing over hats. His shy looks to Miss Kubelik, endearing to the audience. The façade was so thick that it’s almost impossible to remember the scheming motivation to make it all the way up to the 27th floor. After all, the ‘shy and sincere’ character was, at the same time, renting out his apartments for people to have sex in. Lemmon magnificently shows the depth of Baxter’s character when he sits depressed and drunk in a bar, the nice guy taking home a drunk stranger. Despite this and underneath the calculating plans, Lemmon plays someone who genuinely is a good person and loves Fran despite all her faults.
Shirley Maclaine used The Apartment to her advantage. For years she’d only starred in light hearted comedies. Luckily for her, like most of Wilder’s comedies, The Apartment has a dark side and her part was the darkest. Fran Kubelik is a light hearted and strong willed girl on the outside but broken and lonely on the inside, all the more aggravated by being used by Sheldrake. The character quickly spirals down a hole before attempting suicide, and even after sees no way out. The scene where Sheldrake offers her $100 for a present, and Kubelik starts stripping as though she were a prostitute is one of the darkest scenes in the movie.
Maclaine and Lemmon have the perfect way of bouncing off of one another. The scene where Baxter boasts about his new hat, straight after Fran finds out that Sheldrake has slept with most girls in the office is almost like watching two different movies. Lemmon, in a comedy with bright light and charming smiles and Maclaine, darkened with depression in a drama spouting “Makes me look the way I feel” about her hand mirror. They are both realists and while they don’t even finish the film with a sweeping kiss. Who needs love declarations when you’ve been through as much as they had? It ends perfectly with Kubelik flashing a bright smile and saying tenderly “Shut up and deal”.