Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Apartment (1960)

Teriffic, swingin' 60's office comedy about a beleaguered clerk who gains standing in his company by allowing philandering executives access to apartment for their extra-marital trysts. Jack Lemmon secured his superstar status with his role as C.C. Baxter, the neurotic, high-strung cog in the machine who repeatedly sacrifices his dignity, his integrity, and much of his sanity in the attempt to advance his career; no stranger to spending the night on a park bench due to his "occupied" apartment, the film shows us how far he is willing to go before he decides to risk his job and reclaim his manhood. Just as he tenuously makes progress with his longtime crush, the cute elevator girl, played by Shirley Maclaine, his boss, Fred MacMurray, grants him a promotion with the stipulation that he must have on-demand access to Baxter's apartment to shack up with, you guessed it, the cute elevator girl played by Shirley Maclaine. The love triangle rambles along as MacMurray eventually assigns Lemmon the task of keeping an eye on Maclaine, which, inevitably, leads to lovey dovey scenes of their blossoming romance, with the increasingly stressed Lemmon being forced to definitively choose between the gold or the girl.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of this film, which no one had ever seen fit to mention in their appraisals of the film, is its firmly 60's era depiction of the workplace. The women are all secretaries, and, it is revealed, have all had affairs with their married bosses (until they got too old). The men are all joyous, fedora-sporting cads who amicably compete and banter without ever maliciously undermining each other for personal gain. There are plenty of cocktails drunk, floozies picked up, and codependent, selfless women; Maclaine's character is hopelessly in love with MacMurray, and provides a detached running commentary on the futility, and cliched nature, of her position as "the other woman." Fuck Mad Men; this is the real deal, without irony, in all of its politically incorrect, blissfully unaware glory. Lemmon's stalwart, yet career-minded schlub stands out among his peers for his minimal, but still-present respect for the opposite sex. His faded sense of morality makes him constantly edgy and nervous, and makes him both an identifiable, yet thoroughly watchable protagonist. MacMurray is surprisingly sympathetic as the big boss man, Maclaine is adorable and sympathetic as the perpetually dumped elevator girl, and Ray Walston kills it in a fast-talking smaller part as a coworker of Lemmon's. Billy Wilder made some very ambitious thematic choices for this era (including a scene, my favorite, of Lemmon picking up, and discarding of, an aging barfly floozy), and the end result is a film that has dated in all the right ways, and remains both a delightful narrative and a snapshot of a time, era, and mentality that does not exist (aside from bad xerox copies on AMC).

Highly Recommended for fans of Lemmon or Maclaine, or of classic business comedies such as Sweet Smell of Success or The Front Page (also with Lemmon). I have not seen Wilder and Lemmon's previous collaboration (the obscure, largely forgotten comedy Some Like it Hot), so I cannot say how it holds up, but that film would have to be simultaneously funny, involving, and surprisingly touching to land in this one's ballpark.

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