Ten years pass as I follow Roger Ebert’s spirit down the The Great Movies rabbit hole and arrive in 1960 for Billy Wilder’s The Apartment.
Jack Lemmon, not yet a grumpy old man, stars as C.C. Baxter, a busy worker bee who lends his apartment out to the executives at his company looking to keep their extramarital affairs quiet. C.C., or Bud as no one calls him, begins to burn out on the whole arrangement as he falls for for elevator girl Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), who is secretly dating one of Baxter’s partners-in-deceit (Fred MacMurray).
The Apartment is mostly a comedy. Lemmon gets a chance to show off some of his physical quirks at various points in the film. His charisma is what drives the film, moreso than MacLaine, who seems to read every other line just a touch incorrectly.
It is difficult to judge the performances though, as there is rampant overacting in the movie. It is the kind of thing that is indicative of this era of Hollywood, but while it feels completely appropriate in All About Eve, it does not hold up in The Apartment. Jack Lemmon in his more flustered scenes and Ray Walston specifically make it more difficult to identify with their characters.
Luckily Wilder solves this problem by deftly addressing some very universal themes, such as ambition, love, loss, and aimlessness. Particularly strong is the movie’s handling of an attempted suicide. The picture looks this topic square in the face, rather than dance around it or shy away. I find it hard to imagine a contemporary film doing the same without becoming almost entirely about that subject.
The Apartment, along with All About Eve, show us how gutsy Hollywood writers and directors were back in the earlier days of the medium. At least in some cases. Surely these movies are not representative of the medium as a whole at the time. If that is the case, I may jump back in that rabbit hole.