In 1959, Billy Wilder released Some Like It Hot, a cross-dressing comedy that received both critical and commercial success and was named by the American Film Institute as the funniest film of all time. So how exactly did Wilder follow-up such an achievement? By making a black-and-white, dark comedy that showed a funny and, at times, honest depiction of the times.
The Apartment centers around C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), a very lonely office worker at an insurance company. The film opens with Baxter working at his desk, narrating to the audience about random statistics at his desk. His desk is number 861 and it is surrounded by dozens of other desks on the floor. This frame shows just how forlorn are hero is but fortunately the clock soon reaches 5:20, the end of the work day. Yet Baxter tells us that he is not going home, at least not for the next few hours, until he feels that it is “alright for [him] to go home”.
The reason that Baxter feels unsure of whether he can go home or not is because his apartment serves as a place that executives at his company take women to so that they can carry on affairs. At the beginning of the film, Baxter stands outside of his building looking up longingly at his apartment. He knows he can’t go in because the lights are on and is forced to stand outside in the rain. The executives seem to forget his name and simply call him “buddy” or “buddy-boy”, but he doesn’t mind because they tell him sweet nothings of a promotion.
One day Baxter finds the courage to ask out Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), an elevator girl, but she stands him up. It is revealed that she is actually carrying on a relationship with Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), Baxter’s boss who also happens to be a married man. The relationship between the two was supposedly over but is now but on again because Mr. Sheldrake tells her sweet nothings about divorcing his wife.
In this way our two heroes are similar; neither character is forced into their predicament but it is rather their choice. The film offers a bleak but honest portrayal of what people at that time would do to get ahead. This is also why the film is a timeless classic; so many people in this day and age would prostitute themselves in the same way to get ahead. One hopes to climb the corporate ladder while the other hopes to climb the social ladder.
The film succeeds because of a brilliant screenplay, direction and the performances of the actors. In particular, the chemistry between Lemmon and MacLaine stands out; their scenes together are amazing and their back and forth dialogue is like watching a great tennis match. The movie is a must-watch for all fans of comedy and you will be pleasantly surprised by how moved you are by the dramatic moments .
Edited: January 27th, 2012