The Apartment

The Apartment

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Apartment is famous for its opening voiceover, in which, against a backdrop of stunning imagery which reminds us just how small he is, ambitious young clerk CC Baxter ("Everybody calls me Bud") explains the system which is enabling him to impress his seniors - and which, every now and again, leaves him standing outside in the rain. Baxter (as he is actually known, in the absence of real friends) lends his apartment to company executives who need somewhere discreet to conduct their extra-marital affairs. He orders in the champagne, he makes the excuses, and he hopes for a promotion. But whilst his neighbours think they're living next door to Casanova, Baxter is really lonely, isolated and beginning to feel it.

Everything changes when Baxter meets Fran Kubelik, the elevator operator whom it seems everybody in the company is out to bed. Reserved and delicate, Fran is reminiscent of Audrey in Little Shop Of Horrors, a universal object of desire who never thought she could appeal to a 'nice guy' like our hapless hero. Her appearance drastically alters the tone of the film. In essence it's a slapstick comedy, but Fran is a human being, and as he falls for her Baxter gradually begins to question what he's been enabling. The company is an entirely male dominated structure, with women in supporting roles desperately waiting for their lovers to divorce their wives, being passed around from one man to another with no hope of lasting happiness. Fran's resulting depression has triggered an increasing emotional withdrawal from the world. It's an introspective response, but its results are dramatic.

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The Apartment touches on dangerous territory in several areas. It has a playful attitude toward the sexual mores of its day and it certainly doesn't portray its female characters as uninterested in having a good time. In places its sexual jokes, played absolutely straight, must have presented a real challenge to the censor. Yet it is also deeply subversive on a social level, challenging the established way of living which has created such a damaging power imbalance. And by centering its story around the relationship between an exploited clerk and a depressive woman, it challenges the very pretext of comedy.

Despite all the gloom, The Apartment is a very funny film. It's wittily scripted and inventively directed, a Billy Wilder classic. Even when he's in the apartment on his own. Baxter's interactions with the television keep us laughing. Some of the stereotypes are a little hackneyed now, but so much of this film still rings true that it has that sharp relevancy comedy needs to live and breathe. With finely judged performances from Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, it's a great way to spend an evening, and it's something you won't forget about in the morning.

Reviewed on: 10 Jul 2008
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An ambitious clerk engineers his rise through the ranks by lending his apartment to his seniors for their extra-marital affairs, only to question everything when he falls for someone himself.
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Director: Billy Wilder

Writer: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis, Edie Adams

Year: 1960

Runtime: 125 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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