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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Billy Wilder’s The Apartment At the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Saturday September 9, Gates open at 6:30pm (NEW TIME!) Movie starts at 8:00pm. If you’ve never been to one of these screenings, don’t miss out on this unique experience. If you’ve been before, you already know this is a cool way to watch some of the best classic cinema ever offered. A Billy Wilder romantic/comedy under and (as Cinespia likes to say) above the stars – it’s the perfect date movie!

Billy Wilder’s The Apartment is Cinespia’s selection for this week’s outdoor screening at the famous Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Once again, the folks with Cinespia have made an inspired choice, showing one of the most endearing, charming, witty, and romantic films of all time. Come on out and see the Best Picture winner of 1960 within the deeply atmospheric surroundings of Hollywood’s famous dead (tombstones, mausoleums and crypts, oh my!), all in the shadows of the studio to which Wilder helped give a notable distinction with his richly sophisticated comedies.

Wilder’s acerbic look at corporate life stars an adorably affable Jack Lemmon as C.C. “Bud” Baxter. I personally believe that there’s nothing better than a young Jack Lemmon for a sly romantic comedy. This is Jack before the high dramatic roles of his later years, yet there’s just enough youthful angst in him to awaken the sole of his initially “average guy” character. His youthful moxie and energetic hopefulness is in perfect balance with the insecurities of his age. He keeps a positive chin-up attitude, but lashes out in anger with acute precision when justifiable. Hell, it makes you want to cheer! No one ever has, or ever will play this type better than Jack Lemmon. Never. Perhaps the type should be retired in reverence.

Lemmon’s Bud is a moderately ambitious statistics man for an insurance company who has innocently fallen into the habit of letting his bosses use his bachelor pad for trysts. You know how it goes – you let one guy change there for a banquet and the next thing you know you have regularly scheduled orgies. By providing a hideaway for philandering bosses, Lemmon suddenly lands one promotion after another, ultimately becoming assistant to the biggest boss of them all, J.D. Sheldrake, played wonderfully against type by Fred MacMurray (better known as the father on My Three Sons). MacMurray later claimed to regret playing the lecherous role even though the film was a huge success. He apparently received displeasure from his many fans who had come to know him as The Absent Minded Professor and other Disney-type roles.

Complications ensue in this clever little plot when Bud realizes that his boss’ newest mistress is the lovely elevator operator he’s had his eye on, played by the lovely and unusually sedate Shirley MacLaine. Usually a force of her own, MacLaine is absolutely beguiling as the pixie-like damsel in distress who has found herself in a shameful situation – she has become involved with a married man. Bud is now forced to make an important decision, choosing between the ideal girl and the perfect job.

Besides just being a damn good movie, The Apartment is an example of legendary writer/director Billy Wilder at his satirical best. Every wannabe romantic/comedy filmmaker ought to be required to see this film so that they can see how it should be done, perhaps shaming them into another line of work before they inflict the world with any more insufferable dreck. What raises Wilder above the rest is his ability to combine the simple beauty of his camera work with the piercing intelligence of his dialogue, identifying him as the quintessential writer/director of the Hollywood studio system.

Although, Wilder always claimed that he became a director only to protect his scripts, his natural ability to create a meaningful composition is evident throughout his pictures and well exemplified with the opening shot in The Apartment, where Lemmon is seen as a little guy among rows and rows of other little guys while he explains in voiceover his place in the company and, apparently, the world. Wilder’s choice to shoot in luscious black and white highlights the clean lines and angles that frame the precise world in which this man lives. This is the last time anything will be so clean and exact for C.C. Baxter. Throughout this picture, similar images prevail that continue to support the theme of the struggle between power and love without dominating, without overpowering. Whenever you get the chance, watch this film again and again (at least once without sound) and you will come to realize that every frame has a quiet, but strong meaning of its own.

At the 33rd annual Academy Awards of 1960, The Apartment was the biggest winner of the evening with five awards, including Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (edging out Alfred Hitchcock for Psycho), Best Story and Screenplay (Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond), Best Art Decoration (Black & White), and Best Editing (beating out The Alamo and Spartacus). Other nominations included Jack Lemmon as Best Actor (he lost to Burt Lancaster for his portrayal in Elmer Gantry), Shirley MacLaine as Best Actress (Elizabeth Taylor won for Butterfield 8), Jack Kruschen as Best Supporting Actor for his role as the helpful doctor next door, Best Cinematography (Black and White) and Best Sound.

This classic comedy is highly regarded to this day, and is considered one of the best films ever brought to the silver screen. Among other distinctions, The Apartment ranked 93rd on the AFI 100 Best Movies of all time, 62nd on AFI’s list of Most Passionate Films of all time, and 20th on AFI’s list of the Funniest Movies of all time (another Wilder film, Some Like It Hot nabbed the top spot). Wilder himself is considered one of the most influential persons in the history of the movies and, in 1986, the American Film Institute honored Wilder with a Life Achievement Award. In 1988, the Motion Picture Academy presented Wilder with the Irving G. Thalberg Award for the excellence of his collective work, which includes Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, Sabrina, The Seven Year Itch, Witness for the Prosecution, Some Like It Hot and many, many more.

Undoubtedly, Billy Wilder built an enviable collection of films that illuminated the dark manners and sexual mores of America through clever and groundbreaking scripts. And when it comes to black comedy, Wilder certainly ranks as (at least) the equal of his beloved and much revered mentor, Ernst Lubitsch (“Ninotchka”, “Little Shop around the Corner”, “To Be or Not To Be”). The consistency of his sardonic vision allowed him to elevate his art to a grander scale than any future writer/director can ever hope to aspire.

Don’t forget to bring your blankets, drinks and picnic dinner for this special screening al fresco. DJ John Tripp spins before and after the screening. For more info or to join the Cinespia email list visit

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