The Apartment may be the best all-around film on our holiday watch list, though I’m still partial to It’s a Wonderful Life. It is the only film on our list to win a Best Picture Oscar. It also won Billy Wilder Oscars for best director and best screenplay, plus best art direction and best editing. Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine were nominated for their acting (and they won the Golden Globes that year). Jack Kruschen, who plays Dr. Dreyfus, was also nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar.
I think this is probably Wilder’s best film, with Double Indemnity and Some Like It Hot a close second and third. It is definitely my favorite film for Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon, who create pained yet sincere and amusing characters amidst the cold, calculating corporate culture that Wilder so effectively satirizes.
C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is working his way to the top of the corporate ladder by letting executives in his company use his apartment for illicit rendezvous. Baxter is attracted to the elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), not realizing that she is having an affair with Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). Realizing the fruitlessness of her affair, Fran attempts suicide in the apartment, not realizing that it belongs to Baxter. Baxter rescues her and nurses her back to health, falling more deeply in love with her only to find that she has decided to return to Sheldrake. On New Year’s Eve, however, she realizes how much Baxter loves her and runs back to him and the apartment.
The film begins several weeks before Christmas and has major turning points on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. There is a drunken office party and a drunk Santa that are key backdrops to the film’s satire. Still, it retains a warm, redemptive center.
Fred MacMurray (Jeff Sheldrake) plays an immoral boss so different from his sweet role in Remember the Night. Because of his association with such nice roles as the father in My Three Sons (1960-72) and The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), it is easy to forget how he could be so effective in complex, nasty roles, such as Double Indemnity (1944) and The Caine Mutiny (1954).
Ray Walston (Mr. Dobisch) will always be TV’s My Favorite Martian (1963-66), but he had a host of wonderful film roles, such as The Sting (1973), Damn Yankees (1958) and South Pacific (1958).
Jack Kruschen (Dr. Dreyfus) made a brief appearance earlier in The Lemon Drop Kid (1951). He had a small role in Cape Fear (1962) and McLintock! (1963), as well as The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) and dozens of TV series.
David White (Mr. Eichelberger) is probably best remembered as Larry Tate on TV’s Bewitched (1964-72).
Edie Adams (Miss Olsen) had a wonderfully diverse career as a singer, comedienne, and a serious dramatic actress, not to mention her sultry TV ads for Muriel cigars. She was married to the innovative TV comedian Ernie Kovacs, who tragically died in 1962. Her best known film roles came in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) and The Best Man (1964).
Franklyn Farnum (Jack Lemmon’s jealous co-worker) appeared in Meet John Doe (1941), Lady on a Train (1945) and White Christmas (1954). He had roles in several other Billy Wilder films, including The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Some Like It Hot (1959).
Hal Smith (man in Santa Claus suit) is best remembered as the town drunk, Otis Campbell, in The Andy Griffith Show (1960-66). He had a small role in O. Henry’s Full House (1952) and did cartoon voices in such shows as The Huckleberry Hound Show, Quick Draw McGraw, The Flintstones and Scooby Doo.
Franklyn Farnum appeared with Fred Astaire in Let’s Dance (1950), Royal Wedding (1951) and Funny Face (1957).
WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE
Billy Wilder’s ability to combine comedy, poignant drama and wicked social satire was unmatched by any Hollywood director. I particularly love his ability to use small objects on multiple levels to create comedy, character, and turning points in the plot, such as the broken mirror, the tennis racket with the strand of spaghetti, the gun, and the cards. He does similar things in so many of his movies that it became one of his hallmarks.
This is the final film on our watch-list with a reference to the holiday Tom & Jerry drink. Jack Lemmon tells Fred MacMurray that he has the mix ready in the refrigerator. The other three films were Beyond Tomorrow, Never Say Goodbye and The Cheaters.
WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM
TCM occasionally shows this fine film, but it is not on their schedule for the next few months. It is available for streaming with Amazon Prime.