Monday, January 18, 2010

The Apartment: A Real-life Story

It's a gloriously rainy day here in Los Angeles today, the perfect weather to stay at home and enjoy a good movie...or at least write about one.  Today's movie of discussion - Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" (1960) starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.  This gem of a movie by Wilder and his writing partner I.A.L. Diamond was the follow-up to their enormously successful hit "Some Like It Hot."  There was a lot of pressure on them to make something equally as good...and they succeeded.

"The Apartment" tells the story of Lemmon's character C.C. Baxter ("C for Calvin, C for Clifford") and his inventive way of rising to the top in the corporate world.  He lends his apartment out to executives in his office so that they can have a secret, secure place to go for their adulterous affairs.  Except for the occasional lack of sleep, everything is fine until the girl he longs for (MacLaine) ends up being one of those mistresses.  When she takes an overdose of sleeping pills while in his apartment, everything becomes more complicated, yet clearer for Baxter.

This is my favorite Billy Wilder film.  I love "Some Like It Hot" as well, but there's something about "The Apartment" that warms my heart unlike the other.  There is no way to classify this film.  It's a comedy, drama, wonderful love story, and sad satire of our world all at the same time.  Wilder and Diamond managed to create one of the most well-written scripts out there with this film.  To cross genres so smoothly and yet keep the strength and heart of the story consistent throughout is a amazing feat.  Basically, they wrote real life.

Wilder got the idea for this movie back in 1945 after seeing the film "Brief Encounter." He kept thinking about the unseen guy who kept lending out his apartment to the leads for their affair.  But due to film censorship, he wasn't able to get it made until 1960.  Yet even then the adulterous theme was controversial.  That didn't seem to matter though come Oscar season.  "The Apartment" was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won 5 of them, including Best Screenplay, Best Director, and the ultimate win, Best Picture of the Year.  This film ended up being the last completely black and white film to win a Best Picture Oscar as well, with "Schindler's List" in 1993 being the closest to break that record.  ("Schindler's List" is not completely black and white though.)

Two of the Oscar nominations were for Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, and it's their talent and chemistry that make this film feel so real.  Lemmon is a favorite for me because he has a great talent of being every man.  There's nothing about him in looks and movement that make him stand out, which works for his roles.  He is always able to blend into his characters yet retain what makes him lovable.  Shirley MacLaine is also a favorite of mine, because she is always a joy to watch.  There is something about her that is innately light and natural, even when she's serious.  Click here to view a scene of their chemistry.

Wilder worked hard to make this film as real as possible, including giving his actors only a few pages of the script at a time, so they wouldn't know the ending, as well as changing scenes a little here and there to fit the actors' real personalities themselves.  Of course sometimes that wasn't always true to form.  Fred MacMurray, who played the cold-hearted scoundrel who breaks MacLaine's heart, used to tell a story about the aftereffects of this film.  He once had a woman come up to him and hit him with her purse, calling him a horrible adulterer after this movie premiered, which was completely against his personality.

So if you're in the mood for a good story that rings true even today, rent "The Apartment" now (or click here) and enjoy one of the strongest gems in Hollywood's film vaults...opinion-wise, that is.

(Post-tidbit:  This screenplay was later adapted into a Broadway musical by Neil Simon and Burt Bacharach, called "Promises, Promises."  Bacharach's hit song "What Do You Get When You Fall in Love?" is from this play.)

1 comment:

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