I’m amazed that I’ve gone this long without having seen Billy Wilder’s Best Picture-winning The Apartment. After falling in love with Some Like it Hot, and introducing it to many people who lose it (like I initially did) at that film’s last line, for some reason, I never got around to watching Wilder’s follow-up until Arrow’s new restoration of the film. It’s just as brilliant, edgy, and hilarious as Some Like It Hot, maybe even more so. And just like the aforementioned film, for all the incredible one-liners, there’s another side to The Apartment that is a little bit darker than expected, but is still as welcome as its comedic moments.
C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), also known by his colleagues as “buddy boy,” is a Manhattan-based insurance worker who lends his Upper West Side apartment to the higher-ups for the night so they can get away with extramarital affairs. On some nights, Baxter is able to get back into his apartment as scheduled. Most nights, though, he’s not able to get back in until much later in the night.
He has a dream for a better position within the company, preferably one in which he has his own office and is not part of the never-ending line of workers that occupy an entire floor of the building in which he works. Just when he’s about had it with some of his superiors not abiding by the rules he has in place for his apartment, he catches wind of a possible promotion. He also finds a new love interest in the elevator girl, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). But things get a little hectic when it turns out that his boss (Fred MacMurray) is having an affair with Fran.
Wilder’s film is a brilliant and still relevant satire on corporate America that blends comedy, film noir, and even a little bit of romance so seamlessly. Released in 1960, when color had already been introduced into cinema, Wilder’s film is shot in black and white - coming off as more dreary and lonesome than it would have been if we were able to see all the vibrant and bright looks of certain events that occur in The Apartment. Notably, there’s an office party that would look different in color, and, with the film set around Christmas time, things would seem more jolly than they should be. In a movie like The Apartment, things shouldn’t necessarily look jolly and bright.
It’s a bold move by Wilder to keep things black and white. This effort perfectly sets the mood for how Baxter feels and what he experiences as he is constantly taken advantage of by his superiors. A single man with no family, when he is able to make it into his own apartment, Baxter lives a rather dull life, eating TV dinners and spending his nights in front of the television. And it’s a wonderful performance by Lemmon, who would later go on to receive an Oscar nomination for the role.
MacLaine is also a delight as the innocent elevator attendant, who is able to come across as chipper and cheerful, but is always down on herself and how her life has gone when she’s not tending to a bunch of suits and wage workers going up (or down) numerous floors. Her chemistry with Lemmon is a treat to watch. A terrific scene involving a broken compact mirror has her stating she’s fine with the mirror as it is because it’s how she views herself. It’s a harsh criticism, yet one that is flawlessly delivered by MacLaine.
With its release occurring during the final week of 2017, Arrow really came through with one of the best Blu-ray releases of the year. The new 4K restoration shows that the people who went through the process of updating the picture put in a lot of effort to make it look pristine. There are some noticeable hairs and dirt that appear, but it’s not too much of a bother with how the rest of the picture turned out.
One special feature that is only about three-minutes long shows a side-by-side comparison of the original negative and the new 4K restoration. It’s rather incredible to see how drastically different the original image looks when compared to the update.
Speaking of special features, this release is filled with a ton of them that will make any film fan giddy. Film historian Philip Kemp spends one segment exploring two particular scenes from the movie and analyzing them, while another feature has Kemp talking about the history of The Apartment and its appreciation today.
Filmmaker David Cairns also has two features on this disc. One looks at the Lemmon/Wilder collaborations with a new video essay called The Flawed Couple. Not all of their films together had the same results as Some Like it Hot and The Apartment, and Cairns talks about how some of Wilder’s later works with Lemmon, initially commercial failures and have since continued to remain under the radar, are actually films that deserve more attention. The other feature that Cairns narrates is Billy Wilder ABC, which examines Wilder’s career in film and looks at the numerous actors, other than Lemmon, with whom he collaborated.
The other new features on the disc are an interview with Hope Holliday and an audio commentary by film producer and historian Bruce Block. Several archive features make their way onto the Arrow release as well. One is a 30-minute making-of feature from 2007 that has interviews with MacLaine and others who worked on the film. The other is a profile of Lemmon, which is also from 2007.
To top it all off, Arrow included a new, 150-page booklet with its release of The Apartment that features essays from Neil Sinyard, Kat Ellinger, and Travis Crawford, and Heather Hyche. This booklet also contains several pages of behind-the-scenes photos and a brief overlook at the restoration of the movie.
Having now finally seen The Apartment, it’s easy to see why it’s regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. It’s brilliantly executed with style and contains many great comedic moments throughout. And Arrow’s release shows that the people who worked on getting this together made sure that film fans were getting something special.