The Apartment: Review
Long before Billy Crystal’s Harry ever met Meg Ryan’s Sally, and before Ryan went sleepless with Tom Hanks in Seattle, Shirley MacLaine was the effervescent sweetheart of the day. With her quiet charm, well-placed dimples, and perky up-turned nose MacLaine effortlessly attracted the admiration and affections of a young and adorable Jack Lemmon in The Apartment.
Relying heavily on a plot that is part formulaic, part farce, director Billy Wilder (Sunset Blvd., The Seven Year Itch) and long time writing collaborator I.A.L. Diamond (Cactus Flower, Love in the Afternoon) managed to make the yearnings of a junior executive for the boss’s mistress utterly wholesome and achingly sweet. Of course the actors helped a lot too. With both leads just reaching the prime of their talents, Wilder had the perfect cast for a charmingly risqué story of Boy meets Girl. MacLaine was at the time still in the blush of her beguiling pixie period having appeared in just ten films. And Lemmon was still portraying the lovable regular guy, such as Jerry in his last film before The Apartment, another Wilder romp, Some Like It Hot.
Both actors were years away from the more serious roles for which they would become known in their later careers. They were still fresh and oh so likable, representing the ideal young lovers (in fact the chemistry between the two worked so well Wilder would re-team the duo a few years later for the much bawdier, Irma la Douce). Here, they each compliment each other so well; in his eyes she is the girl next door all men dream about, and in her eyes he is the man who defends her honor regardless of the facts and regardless of the opposition. He is a man who will stand up for her and stay by her side through thick and thin. He is her hero and she is his damsel in distress.
Of course at first Lemmon doesn’t seem like much of a hero. He starts out in the film as just one of a thousand guys who rides the elevator MacLaine operates in an extremely large insurance agency in New York. Due to a favor he once did for a friend his apartment has become the rendezvous point for executive assignations. And this becomes the key to his success. The head honcho (Fred MacMurray cast perfectly against type) wants in on the set up, so he gives Lemmon a promotion in exchange for a key to his flat. What Lemmon doesn’t know is that the object of his own affection is the paramour his boss is attempting to lure back. Things go wrong, secrets are discovered, hearts are broken and true love ultimately prevails in one of Wilder’s signature final scenes, perfectly executed of course.
Not just a piece of escapist fluff, the elements combine to create a completely satisfying, brilliantly funny, unequalled whole. The Apartment has depth and meaning that reaches across the changing cinematic styles of passing generations, attaining a staying power that will continue to charm and entertain viewing after viewing, year after year.