Billy Wilder’s corrosive 1960 lampoon of corporate America is now so familiar to most people that it barely seems to deserve the time investment that this new print demands. Look again, though, and there is plenty of really surprising stuff in this wonderful film.
If you have never seen this film before it tells the story of spineless insurance statistician CC Baxter (Jack Lemmon) who works in a huge, busy insurance office in New York. He has fallen into the practice of leasing his apartment to his superiors for illicit liaisons and is rewarded with high-speed promotion. All of which suits him fine until he realises one of the girl’s being taken back to his apartment is elevator operator Fran (Shirley MacLaine), the girl of his dreams.
It’s easy to forget just how amoral, raunchy, rude and cruel IAL Diamond’s acidic script must have been back at the tail end of the jet age. Diamond and Wilder lay it all to waste, from cronyism to the insidiousness of the then relatively new medium of television, they tear down the post war urban American dream and leave it to soak up rainwater and fag butts in the gutter. Look at central suicide recovery sequence of the film. Shot entirely in silence it follows the drawn out attempts of Baxter’s Jewish doctor neighbour Dr Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) to keep Fran alive after an attempted suicide. It’s a black hole from which the film only just about recovers by the end.
The truth is Wilder never wanted anyone to come out of his movies feeling comfortable or complacent. His lack of faith in humanity meant that even from this remove his films can seem incredibly modern in their refusal to betray sympathy or award moral marks. Now, as then, The Apartment is a great movie - just go watch it, again.