Lemon and MacLaine in a Billy Wilder Classic
C.C. Baxter isn’t an every man. He’s an every middle class American: A wage slave, seated in the center of mile deep office space, clacking away on a typewriter, crunching numbers. He’s invisible and exploitable at the whims of a 32,000 employee New York insurance company.
Often, Baxter (Jack Lemon) is lonely. He works overtime, alone, and single focal point cinematography surrounds him with social blankness. Baxter walks home and stands outside in the rain. Someone is using his apartment for a fling. Baxter is so forlorn, so hopeless, so stepped on, to get ahead he loans out his bachelor pad to executives in hopes of a promotion. That’s how he’ll be identified – the lonely guy who helps other not lonely guys get laid.
The Apartment isn’t so much about Baxter’s apartment – it’s about what surrounds that apartment. A surging late ‘50s, early ‘60s capitalism tale, The Apartment splashes the screen with droves of workers, marching to their desks aimlessly for $96 a week. It’s also a fantasy in 2017 – a guy with a middle-of-the-road gig on the ninth floor of a massive office complex can afford a New York apartment.
There’s an instant dynamic between MacLaine and Lemon
There’s an instant dynamic between MacLaine and Lemon
It’s all a gorgeous time capsule, written with a suave sense of kink courtesy of Billy Wilder. No one says sex. That’s just implied. A suicide is never called such; someone took too many pills. Much as The Apartment hides reality behind inevitable film censorship of the day, there’s reality inside. Lemon is a natural as the awkward, sheepish Baxter. He’s an instant working man’s hero. Fred MacMurray, the office executive, is appropriately cruel, a corporate caricature if no less plausible. Key characters make themselves believable.
Shirley MacLaine dazzles in a difficult, emotional role, torn between lovers and a rotten romantic past. She’s an elevator girl, breaking with social expectations by cutting her hair short. There’s an instant dynamic between MacLaine and Lemon – these two deserve to be on the screen together, furthering the success of this unlikely hero’s journey.
The Apartment never feels like the 1960s. It does look like the ‘60s: The typewriters, the dresswear, the black & white cinematography. However it’s unabashedly progressive for the time, not only in belittling the droning, even desperate effect of American capitalism, but in its openness toward infidelity and the wink-wink honesty of the dialog. Men chomp cigars and rattle off their “successes.” Other than Lemon, no one ever speaks of the actual work they do, just the women they’re entangled with.
Lemon acts as a goof in a blackened comedy, a reprieve while The Apartment features men cheating on their wives at Christmas (even on Christmas), discussions and acts of suicide, plus a breakdown into violence. The Apartment turns from a goofball comedy of sexual deviance into a tale of consequences. It’s a holiday comedy for adults. Everyone is doomed to misery. The Apartment’s women rarely earn respect – clearly, they’re used and objectified – yet Lemon and MacLaine find each other. Both feel broken. Rather than move up, both seem content to keep low. That’s where they belong. That’s where society put them. In that respect, that apartment is a pretty good place to be.
This stellar 4K-sourced transfer is magic to the eye. Generous grain reproduction maintains stable and impressive fidelity. Close-ups resolve facial definition and details in the environments stand out. Look around the apartment. It’s flush with scattered objects and items, all perfectly resolved. Sharpness goes beyond expectations.
Well managed gray scale keeps strong depth. Scenes of Lemon outside at night render tight black levels. High contrast peaks inside the office with strong overhead lighting, creating a purposefully monotone look. The Apartment holds onto depth and dimension in all other situations.
A few stray scratches remain on the print. These can’t be fixed as they hang around for numerous frames. Stray instances of damage hide out in the shadows too, if you want to look for them. Mostly, work on restoring The Apartment gives this film a total, clean makeover.
Fluctuations in grain and chemical dissolves introduce some differentiation between scenes. Nothing sticks around too long. Even when they do, Arrow’s work does maintain consistency.
DTS-HD comes in both mono and a surprising 5.1 mix. The latter doesn’t use the surrounds for much, generally just crowds at parties or bars, yet the front soundstage has some fun. Lemon sits alone, switching TV channels while the TV’s sound bounces between the center and left front. Some dialog will do the same. It’s minor, but a pleasing if slightly unnatural extension of a mono source.
Fidelity isn’t an issue. The Apartment sounds better than its age. The tight score hits peaks sans any problems. Any instance of hiss or cracking disappeared with Arrow’s touch.
Bruce Block provides a full commentary. Phillip Kemp pops in to commentate two critical scenes on a separate track. The Key to the Apartment is the first bonus from Arrow, a 10-minute conversation with Kemp about the themes and other anecdotes. The Flawed Couple discusses Jack Lemon and Billy Wilder’s frequent collaboration.
Hope Holiday chats about her small role in the 13-minute A Letter to Castro. A VHS-era feature from the Writing Guild Foundation has Lemon discussing Wilder’s work for 23-minutes. Arrow shows off their restoration work in a brief before-and-after comparison clip. Along with a trailer, two older featurettes earn their inclusion for completeness.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
A timeless Billy Wilder classic, The Apartment is bleak comedy with a grand performance by Jack Lemon in the center of a changing American economy.
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