Director: Billy Wilder
Production: Mirisch Company; black and white, Panavision; running time: 125 minutes. Released May 1960.
Producer: Billy Wilder; associate producers: Doane Harrison,
I. A. L. Diamond; screenplay: Billy Wilder, I. A. L. Diamond; photography: Joseph LaShelle; editor: Daniel Mandell; sound: Fred Lau; art director: Alexander Trauner; music: Adolph Deutsch.
Cast: Jack Lemmon (C. C. Baxter); Shirley MacLaine (Fran Kubelik); Fred MacMurray (J. D. Sheldrake); Ray Walston (Dobisch); David Lewis (Kirkeby); Jack Kruschen (Dr. Dreyfuss); Joan Shawlee (Sylvia); Edie Adams (Miss Olsen); Hope Holiday (Margie MacDougall); Johnny Seven (Karl Matuschka); Naomi Stevens (Mrs. Drefuss); Frances Weintraub Lax (Mrs. Lieberman); Joyce Jameson (Blonde); Willard Waterman (Vanderhof); David White (Eichelberger).
Awards: Oscars for Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Original Story and Screenplay, and Best Editing, 1960. British Film Academy Awards for Best Film and Best Foreign Actor (Lemmon).
Wilder, Billy, and I. A. L. Diamond, The Apartment and The FortuneCookie: Two Screenplays, New York, 1970.
Madsen, Axel, Billy Wilder, Bloomington, Indiana, 1969.
Seidman, Steve, The Film Career of Billy Wilder, Boston, 1977.
Dick, Bernard F., Billy Wilder, Boston, 1980.
Ciment, Michel, Les Conquérants d'un nouveau monde: Essais sur lecinéma américain, Paris, 1981.
Giannetti, Louis, Masters of the American Cinema, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1981.
Freedland, Michael, Jack Lemmon, London, 1985.
Jacob, Jerome, Billy Wilder, Paris, 1988.
Seidl, Claudius, Billy Wilder: Seine Filme, sein Leben, Munich, 1988.
Armstrong, Richard, Billy Wilder, American Film Realist, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2000.
Variety (New York), 18 July 1960.
P. J. D., in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), August 1960.
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Dyer, Peter John, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1960.
Douchet, Jean in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1960.
Domarchi, Jean, and Jean Douchet, "Entretien avec Billy Wilder," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), August 1962.
Onosko, Tom, "Billy Wilder," in Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Winter 1971.
Sarris, Andrew, "Billy Wilder, Closet Romanticist," in Film Comment (New York), July-August 1976.
Tobin, Yann, in Positif (Paris), September 1983.
Combs, Richard, in Listener (London), 29 August 1985.
Bertoni, Aline, "Billy Wilder on 'la vulgaritá congénitale'," in Revue du Cinéma, no. 422, December 1986.
Koch, Gertrud, "Alle Sinnlichkeit der Macht. Zu Billy Wilder's TheApartment (1960)," in Frauen und Film (Frankfurt am Main), no. 43, December 1987.
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* * *
Billy Wilder entered the late period of his career, arguably the richest, with the hugely successful Some Like It Hot; in addition to confirming Jack Lemmon's reputation as a gifted comedian, the film initiated what developed into a long-term professional association between the two. To a degree, The Apartment, a project purportedly conceived as a vehicle for Lemmon, finds Wilder returning to his early 1950s period. Like Sunset Boulevard and Ace in the Hole (The Big Carnival), The Apartment presents a very bleak vision of contemporary American society: fully under the sway of capitalist and patriarchal ideologies, it is a society that pays lip-service to the work ethic and moral integrity but, in actuality, reduces the terms of success to the prostitution of oneself and the exploitation of others. It is a society in which prostitution and exploitation exist in both the professional and personal spheres and what passes for an intimate relationship is often nothing more than a deal or arrangement that benefits the person who holds social and/or economic power.
The Apartment differs from the above-mentioned 1950s dramas in two important ways: 1) the film undercuts the abrasiveness of the earlier works by employing actors who are essentially identified as comedians and mixes the comic and the dramatic mode, although, with the introduction of the Shirley MacLaine/Fred MacMurray relationship, The Apartment becomes predominantly dramatic in tone; 2) Wilder displays a generous and sympathetic attitude towards those characters who are in a powerless position. (This attitude is also found in the highly underrated Kiss Me, Stupid, a particularly pungent piece of satirical social criticism that is, in the main, very broadly drawn. Nevertheless, the Ray Walston and Kim Novak characters, roughly in equivalent positions to those held by Lemmon and MacLaine in The Apartment, are humanized because of Novak's innate integrity and vulnerability and the emotional response it solicits from Walston.) In The Apartment both Lemmon and MacLaine, who are meant to be representative of the "average" young American male and female, are involved in a form of prostitution. In regard to Lemmon, he is advancing up the ladder of the corporate business world by letting higher ranking male employees use, in return for a promotion, his apartment to conduct extra-marital affairs; unlike Lemmon, MacLaine, who is genuinely in love with the married MacMurray, isn't literally practising prostitution although she's led to perceive herself as doing such—in addition to her discovering that she's merely the latest of MacMurray's mistresses, he, in taking leave of her on Christmas Eve to join his wife and family, gives her a hundred dollar bill as a present. (As in Max Ophüls's The Reckless Moment, a film which is also highly critical of American bourgeois society, Wilder undermines the viewer's sentimental notions about the holiday season; MacLaine's suicide attempt, which is provoked by both despair and her sense of degradation, takes place on Christmas Eve.)
While Lemmon is shown to be exploited to the extent that he's willing to be complicit, MacLaine is simply a victim of emotional and sexual exploitation. In contrast, MacMurray, an emblem of the successful male, holds and, at the film's conclusion, retains a position of power and control. The film's devastating critique of the business world is never countered—MacMurray even maintains his image as a faithful husband. (In the film, traditional marriage is shown to be corrupted through the male's practice of the "double standard"; in contrast, the film offers the Jewish couple who are Lemmon's neighbours but these characters are primarily used as stock comic figures.) Although Lemmon regains his moral integrity by refusing MacMurray further access to his apartment when he comprehends how totally indifferent MacMurray is to MacLaine's well-being and happiness, the film doesn't offer any route he may take from there. On the other hand, Lemmon's act, in addition to extricating him from the cycle of prostitution and exploitation, restores to MacLaine the self-respect she has forfeited through her affair with MacMurray. The act also makes her understand the degree to which she values what Lemmon offers her—a relationship in which both partners are on an equal basis. The couple Wilder presents here differs considerably from the conventional heterosexual couple used to give a film its happy ending in the emphasis on companionship rather than romantic love.
Wilder's admiration for Ernst Lubitsch is well known and The Apartment can be seen as his homage to Lubitsch's Shop Around the Corner. Like the Lubitsch film, The Apartment is centred on two characters who are trying to survive in a competitive environment that breeds self-depreciation, loneliness, and alienation. With The Apartment, Wilder matches the delicacy Lubitsch displays in the handling of characterization while retaining his extremely rigorous and uncompromising vision of human existence in the contemporary world.