No. 9: The Apartment
Billy Wilder’s self-aware portrait of American greed and heartlessness
1960, dir. Billy Wilder. Most directors would have found it very hard to follow up a major, important, hilarious, historical film like Some Like It Hot. Thankfully, Billy Wilder didn’t. At the heart of the movie is Bud Baxter (Jack Lemon), a low-level office grunt who works his way up the corporate ladder by offering his apartment to various bosses for the purpose of extra-marital festivities with their mistresses. When one of the mistresses turns out to be Baxter’s love interest, Miss Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), Baxter finds his passion and his paycheck on a collision course. It would have been easy to play this scenario for easy laughs, making much of the indignities Baxter has to endure as he’s mistaken by his neighbors for a smooth lothario. But Wilder aims higher. Without being preachy, he sets up a convincing portrait of America’s descent into greed and heartlessness. Without being sappy, he gives us a nuanced and tender romance between his two characters, without any of the clichés of star-crossed lovers that Hollywood usually favors. And without being melodramatic, he lets us feel Baxter’s rage, the wrath of a good man trapped in a bad situation. (Oh, and there’s that classic last line: After ending Some Like It Hot with “nobody’s perfect,” The Apartment’s contribution to the pantheon of great movie quips is “shut up and deal.” Amen to that, Miss Kubelik.)
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