#14. The Apartment (1960)
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Written by: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Jack Kruschen
Billy Wilder’s Best Picture winning The Apartment is the cynical old master of cinema at his most heartwarming and endearing. The film starring the charming Jack Lemmon in quite possibly his most enduring role and a young, hilarious Shirley MacLaine was one of the very first “classic” movies I ever saw, and one that immediately won my heart. The Apartment tells the story of C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) a down-on-his-luck pushover who rents his apartment to his many bosses so that they can carry out affairs with younger women. Baxter does so in order to climb the often difficult to navigate corporate ladder, and his strategy pays off in spades. After falling in love with the workplace elevator girl Fran (Shirley MacLaine), Baxter begins to have a change of heart. When he finds out that Fran had previously been seduced by his boss Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) and the two had carried out an affair, things become complicated for the love triangle. The Apartment is Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s strongest writing work together, in my opinion. The story features much of Wilder’s inherent cynicism, mostly in C.C. Baxter’s view of the world, and in Fran’s dealings with Sheldrake – there’s a lot of hopelessness and bitterness to be found. Luckily, both Wilder and Diamond also show a deeply human side to their writing, something they would continue to improve on in future scripts. It seems that Diamond brought out the very best in Wilder, making him look past the negatives and create something with spirit and heart. The love story the two men have crafted in The Apartment is truly touching and multi-layered, making it easily one of the most effective romantic-comedies ever made in Hollywood. C.C. Baxter is one of my all-time favorite screen characters – there’s something I find so compelling about his depressive and cynical, but deeply romantic and well-natured attitude. Jack Lemmon’s performance as Baxter is incredible, picking up a well-deserved Best Actor nomination at that year’s Academy Awards. Shirley MacLaine’s turn as Fran is equally as complex, with the sweet young woman towing the line between naive and entirely self-aware. The blossoming romance between both Baxter and Fran is entirely believable, and incredibly sweet – there’s something in the air when the two characters interact, especially in the latter half of the film when they share more screen time. Fred MacMurray’s supporting role as Sheldrake is probably the most I’ve ever enjoyed seeing the actor on screen – he is perfectly charming and unlikable when contrasted with Jack Lemmon’s endearing C.C. Baxter. MacMurray was always best used as a supporting player, and Wilder once again uses him to great effect in The Apartment. The film would go on to win Best Picture, Best Director (Wilder), and Best Writing (I.A.L. Diamond and Wilder) at the 1961 Academy Awards, creating the structure and style of modern romantic comedy films, and paving the way for generations of rom-coms to come. The Apartment is sweet, intelligent, funny, and deeply moving in a way that Billy Wilder was never quite able to recapture – though his 1961 film One, Two, Three is a personal favorite of mine.