Billy Wilder has furnished “The Apartment” with a one-hook plot that comes out high in comedy, wide in warmth and long in running time. As with his smash hit, “Some Like It Hot,” the broad handling is of more of consequence than the package. Wilder’s cinematic skill and the lure of Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray ensure acceptance of the Mirisch Co. picture. “The Apartment” should return substantial rentals to its landlord, United Artists.
The story is simple. Lemmon is a lonely insurance clerk with a convenient, if somewhat antiquated, apartment which has become the rendezvous point for five of his bosses and their amours. In return, he’s promoted from the fifth floor office pool to a 27th floor wood-paneled office complete with key to the executive washroom. He’s a phony Horatio Alger, and knowledge of this fact weighs heavily on his idealistic conscience. When he falls in love with Miss MacLaine, an elevator girl who’s playing Juliet to top executive MacMurray’s Rome, he turns in his washroom key and all that goes with it in exchange for peace of mind. In the process, he wins the girl.
The screenplay, by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, fills every scene with touches that spring only from talented, imaginative filmmakers. But where their “Some Like It Hot” kept you guessing right up to fade-out, “Apartment” reveals its hand early in the game. Second half of the picture is loosely constructed and tends to lag as the rahers go through their paces in over-extending the major plot angle. Most of the time, it’s up to director Wilder to sustain a two-hour-plus film on treatment alone, a feat he manages to accomplish more often than not, and sometimes the results are amazing.
The dialogue, and its execution, are frank. There is no hiding that full-fledged lovemaking is going on in these quarters. To Wilder’s striking credit, the picture has atmosphere, it creates a feeling about people, and, along the way, it makes a few pertinent comments about big businessmen and their infidelities.
“Apartment” is all Lemmon, with a strong twist of MacLaine. The actor uses comedy as it should be used, to evoke a rainbow of emotions. He’s lost in a cool world, this lonely bachelor played by Lemmon, and he is not so much the shnook as the well-meaning, ambitious young man who lets good be the ultimate victor.
Miss MacLaine, again in pixie hairdo, is a prize that’s consistent with the fight being waged for her affections. Her ability to play it broad where it should be broad, subtle where it must be subtle, enables the actress to effect reality and yet do much more. Rather than a single human being, Miss MacLaine symbolizes the universal prey of convincing, conniving married men within the glass walls of commerce.
MacMurray is strong as the two-way player, sympathetic but usually the heel. Edie Adams, as his secretary, is good but of substan-tially more talent than this role requires of her. Same can be said about Ray Walston, used sparingly as one of the loving executives.
Jack Kruschen, as a philosophical doctor, is one of the film’s hits. Top work also is done by David Lewis, Joan Shawlee, Naomi Stevens. Joyce Jameson in a fine “Marilyn Monroe” bit and Hope Holiday in a very funny representation of a tipsy femme.
Joseph LaShelle’s Panavision camera states its case skillfully with low-key work for loneliness, brightness for the efficient office se-quences. Art director Alexander Trauner and set decorator Edward G. Boyle have effectively recreated a Gotham apartment house and a business office that is spectacular in its scope. Film editor Daniel Mandell maintains smooth pace, and sound by Fred Lau is tops.
Adolph Deutsch’s background score incorporates his own “Lonely Room” and Charles Williams’ “Jealous Lover.” Latter, through cooperation of Mills Music, is aptly being retitled “Theme Fro, the Apartment” for commercial recording. Title change will halt confu-sion with a recent and more well-known tune of the same name and could well boost the film’s b.o. even further.
1960: Art Direction (Black-and-White) — Art Direction: Alexander Trauner; Set Decoration: Edward G. Boyle, Directing — Billy Wilder, Film Editing — Daniel Mandell, Best Motion Picture — Billy Wilder, Producer, Writing (Story and Screenplay–written directly for the screen) — Billy Wilder, I. A. L. Diamond
Nominations: Actor — Jack Lemmon (“C.C. ‘Bud’ Baxter”), Actor in a Supporting Role — Jack Kruschen (“Dr. Dreyfuss”), Actress — Shirley MacLaine (“Fran Kubelik”), Cinematography (Black-and-White) — Joseph LaShelle, Sound — Samuel Goldwyn Studio Sound Department, Gordon E. Sawyer, Sound Director