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Criticwire Classic of the Week: Billy Wilder's 'The Apartment'

Criticwire By Max O'Connell | Criticwire July 23, 2014 at 1:34PM

Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and how to be a mensch.
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'The Apartment'
'The Apartment'

Every now and then on the Criticwire Network an older film gets singled out for attention. This is the Criticwire Classic of the Week.

"The Apartment" (1960)
Dir: Billy Wilder
Criticwire Average: A+

Billy Wilder made as many great movies as any director of his era, from the noir masterpieces "Double Indemnity," "Sunset Blvd." and "Ace in the Hole" to lightning-paced comic classics like "Some Like It Hot" and "One, Two, Three." Some dismissed him for his cynicism, but that cynicism shouldn't be mistaken for heartlessness. Case in point: "The Apartment," at once a razor-sharp satire of 1960s corporatism and a tender comedy and love story.

Jack Lemmon stars as C.C. Baxter, an insurance company drone who, in order to climb the corporate ladder, allows his superiors to use his apartment as an outlet for their affairs. When Fran (Shirley MacLaine), one of the women and a company elevator operator who Baxter has eyes for, attempts suicide in his apartment, Baxter takes responsibility for her and weighs how much he's willing to compromise himself for advancement.

Both Lemmon (perfecting his everyman act) and MacLaine play smart people who have blinded themselves to what they really need in pursuit of what they think they need. Wilder uses the spectacular widescreen compositions to isolate them, to emphasize their loneliness, before bringing these kindred spirits together. When Lemmon's neighbor (Jack Kruschen) takes him to task for his acts, he tells Lemmon to "be a mensch...a human being." He doesn't know the full implications of the situation, but it's sage advice anyway. With "The Apartment," Wilder chronicles humanity's capacity for crass manipulation, and their capacity for humanity.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Edward Copeland, Edward Copeland's Tangents

Lemmon perfectly blends the humor and tragedy in his role as the schnook and shows he can be a master of the doubletake. Still, the best work of the film, perhaps of her career, belongs to MacLaine as Fran Kubelik. Her performance gets better each time I see it. She's charming when she needs to be and heartbreaking when that's required. Read more.


Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film

"The Apartment" touches on dangerous territory in several areas. It has a playful attitude toward the sexual mores of its day and it certainly doesn't portray its female characters as uninterested in having a good time. In places its sexual jokes, played absolutely straight, must have presented a real challenge to the censor. Yet it is also deeply subversive on a social level, challenging the established way of living which has created such a damaging power imbalance. And by centering its story around the relationship between an exploited clerk and a depressive woman, it challenges the very pretext of comedy. Read more.


Yair Revah, Cinema Scope

Many know the film's many one-liners, but only the few who have read the script know that the actual final sentence in the screenplay, said as an aside to the reader, is "That's about it, story-wise". Perfect writing.

This article is related to: Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon, The Apartment


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