The Apartment: Collector's Edition
What kind of tender tyrant hinges a love story on a suicide attempt?
Reviewed by Kimberley Jones, Fri., Feb. 22, 2008
The Apartment: Collector's EditionMGM Video and DVD, $19.98
"Acres of gray steel desks, gray steel filing cabinets, and steel-gray faces under indirect light." That's the original script's introduction to Consolidated Life of New York's Ordinary Policy Department, Premium Accounting Division, an insurance monolith that comes to life onscreen in a deep-perspective shot that used child actors and marionettes to convey the endless corporate machine. It's a brilliant combined effort of art direction and cinematography, and a just-right visual kickoff to Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's story of how one man loses his soul to the rat race and regains it via the far-humbler American dream of the love of a sweet girl. Said girl – elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine, in only her second film role) – is, as far as C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is concerned, "tops ... decencywise and otherwise-wise," save one small hiccup: She's having an affair with Baxter's married boss, Mr. Sheldrake (Disney poster boy Fred MacMurray, gone oily). Okay, two hiccups: Baxter's lending his apartment out to Sheldrake for their on-the-sly trysting. Legend goes, the story's first kernels came when Wilder watched David Lean's Brief Encounter, about two furtives affairing in train stations, the countryside, and some schnook's borrowed apartment. Wilder was mostly unimpressed; he thought the real story was in the schnook. Fast-forward 15 years, to a more relaxed moral code (and further inspiration from actress Joan Bennett's real-life scandal involving her agent/lover, a cuckolded husband, another borrowed apartment, and a couple of spent rounds). Pickings are slim in this new release – a lone (talking-point-heavy) commentary track from historian Bruce Block, a doc that repeats much of the same information, and a justifiably fawning short, "Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon" – but no matter: The movie, crisply transferred, is a meal in itself. Fifty years on, it's still a marvelously cracked affair – what kind of tender tyrant hinges a love story on a suicide attempt? – still spot-on in every sense: romanticwise, comedywise, and otherwise-wise.