1960 was a brilliant year for film. ‘Psycho’, ‘A bout de souffle’ and ‘La dolce vita’ were all made in this year (also the latter was not honoured by the Academy until the following year), but it was Billy Wilder’s dark tale of love that ended up winning the most coveted award in film.
Jack Lemmon is CC Baxter, a clerk in a large New York insurance film who lets his seniors in the film use his apartment to entertain their mistresses in order to advance his career. His boss Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) promotes Lemmon in return for letting his use his apartment to entertain elevator girl, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). Even though Baxter is in love with Kubelik he goes along with the situation until one night he finds Kubelik in his apartment following a suicide attempt and this makes him rethink his position.
Often dubbed as a comedy, ‘The Apartment’ is so much more. It has some wonderful comic moments, but the main theme is so brutally tragic that for me it ranks amongst the best character studies ever put to film.
This film has so many good qualities. The direction is what you could come to expect from the wonderful Billy Wilder. He handles every scene with humour and tragedy linked in such an expert manner that it is impossible not to be drawn into this unconventional love story.
This is one of Jack Lemmon’s best performances. He moves from the competitive career-minded clerk to the lonely man struggling with an extremely difficult decision, and he handles it expertly, changing with each scene. His wit and sensitivity is honed to perfection.
Shirley MacLaine is also stunning in her role as the confused and equally lonely younger girl trying to realise what she wants out of life. There are some wonderful moments between the two: when they play rummy together and she has an epiphany and when she is walked around the apartment to keep her conscious. The Christmas party scene is equally wonderful.
The characters are not perfect people: they have faults, insecurities and problems. In short they are real people in a real situation, and all the characters are handled perfectly. ‘The Apartment’ should be watched by anyone wanting to see a film that blends humour and sorrow together expertly. It may not have been my personal choice for the best film of 1960, but it is certainly a worthy winner in an extremely strong year.