Sunday, November 29, 2009
Note: This film was reviewed for the "1001 Movies You Must See" Club. Click here to read the reviews of other members.
There have been many great films that have successfully portrayed the corruption of the corporate world. Oliver Stone's Wall Street is a prime example; a dark, merciless film. Billy Wilder chose to go in a different route with The Apartment and create a seemingly light-hearted, energetic film that effortlessly embodies the tone of its protagonist. It is, however, something much more on the inside, and I suspect that was one of Wilder's main motivations.
Jack Lemmon stars as a ball of energy named C.C. Baxter, a determined insurance worker willing to do almost anything to move up the corporate ladder. He isn't a bad man, but he doesn't quite have the courage to say no when several of the company managers ask to use his apartment to satisfy their extramarital desires. While these men are drinking his liquor, eating his food, and using his bed, Baxter is usually working late, doing any possible thing to impress his superiors. Of course, these men never finish on time and Baxter is forced to wait outside in the cold many a night.
The extreme irony that Wilder creates with this situation is that while Baxter's neighbors, such as Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen), think that this man is a womanizing party animal, he is in reality one of the loneliest men in the office. The only person he has any real, honest conversation with is Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), the elevator lady. They see each other no more than two minutes a day, but we sense that those are the minutes Baxter looks forward to the most.
One day, Baxter is called into Mr. Sheldrake's (Fred MacMurray) office to discuss his promotion. Sheldrake has been hearing his executives glorify this Baxter fellow for months, and he wants to get to the bottom of it. He knows there is something going on, and once he gets Baxter to admit to it, all Baxter needs to do to secure that promotion is give Sheldrake a piece of the pie.
The performances in this film are pitch-perfect. Lemmon, MacLaine, and MacMurray -- all who received Oscar nominations -- embody their roles perfectly. Watching Lemmon's Baxter live this double life is not only a pleasure, but it feels realistic. While Baxter is doing something illegal, Wilder presents the character as a sound gentleman. Is it to show that even the best of us can be corrupted by money? That's probably some of it, but I think Wilder is also trying to draw the differences between appearances and reality.
All three main characters are living double lives. The aforementioned Baxter is an energetic, determined man, but his neighbors see him as a low-life playboy. Kubelik is a charmer at the office, brightening the days of any man that steps into her elevator. Her pleasant demeanor is contagious among the workers, but her personal life is not exactly a dignified one. Mr. Sheldrake is a happily-married father, a hard-working executive, but has a troubling past that never seems to go away. All three of these characters are so well-defined that you can't help but care what happens to them. Some win our sympathy and some don't, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't want things to work out for C.C. Baxter.
With The Apartment, Billy Wilder has created a template for successfully intermixing several different genres. There is comedy, drama, suspense, and romance, and they are all used in the right spots at the right times. The three terrific performances don't hurt either. At the very least, on the outside, this film is an entertaining two hours. But like I said before, if you look deep enough, you will find something special here.