The Best Picture winner of 1960 gets one of the best home video releases of 2017.
Like John Carpenter & Kurt Russell or Garry Marshall & Hector Elizondo, the creative pairing of Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon is among the greatest collaborations between a director and actor. The duo made seven films together from the classic Some Like It Hot to the oft-neglected Buddy, Buddy, but their greatest shared accomplishment is also one of cinema’s finest. 1960’s The Apartment is a smart, witty, and scathing indictment of corporate culture, and now thanks to Arrow Video (via their Arrow Academy label) it’s just received an equally fitting home video release (that’s already growing scarce in the wild).
C.C. Baxter (Lemmon) is in something of a rut. His job performance hasn’t gotten him noticed, and his love life is standing still, but the plan he hits upon to address the first just might affect the second too. He starts loaning out his apartment to various executives at work to use as a place to bring their mistresses for a few hours — he offers privacy and a stocked bar, and they promise good reviews come promotion time. The plan works, but a Shirley MacLaine-shaped wrench is thrown into the mix when he discovers the co-worker he’s been crushing on is his big boss’ “other woman” and will be spending time at Baxter’s apartment.
It’s a simple enough premise, and while it’s never been officially remade, The Apartment‘s DNA can be found in dozens of romantic comedies over the decades since. Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond craft a tale that meticulously creates a familiar world with real people — from the kind-hearted Baxter to his no-hearted co-workers who view their women as play things with expiration dates to the big-hearted Fran Kubelik (MacLaine) — and then unleashes them into a narrative that’s as funny and sweet as it is painful.
Many of the rom-com trademarks are here including a couple at the heart of it stuck in a mess of miscommunication, poor timing, and misguided choices. Lemmon and MacLaine show real chemistry as they cross paths in good times and bad, and while we’re laughing along with their witty repartee their performances also ensure that we’re feeling the emptiness within them both. That balance is one of the film’s many strengths as surface details leave viewers giggling and jubilant, but the darker themes bring more weight than the genre typically commands.
Infidelity is a key through line, one our hero tacitly endorses en route to his own career endorsement, but the film leaves it to viewers’ own moral compass to acknowledge how wrong it is. The activities are commonplace and well-known about the office, and the reality is offered as easily as it is in the far more “modern” Mad Men. The story here isn’t about punishing bad men — it’s about bringing good people together. It’s not an easy journey, as a serious suicide attempt by one of the lead characters can attest to, but it’s a human one built on compassion, kindness, and love. This makes the film sound like a serious affair, and it most definitely is at times, but again, Wilder and friends masterfully control the tone to ensure that audiences are laughing aloud as often as they are flinching from the honesty.
Every aspect of the film is integral to its success, but special praise is due to MacLaine’s character and performance. Like Baxter in his career, Kubelik is a woman seemingly resigned to the romance she finds rather than the one she deserves. Reward comes with effort, though, and MacLaine takes her beautifully from simple acceptance to resistance. Glances and wet-eyed observations break our heart, and by the time the film ends — with the very start of a romance — we’re left cheering for two souls in a cynical world.
Arrow Academy’s new Blu-ray comes in a limited edition packaging that includes a beautiful hardbound book featuring photos from the film, behind-the-scenes stills, and new essays by Neil Sinyard, Kat Ellinger, Travis Crawford, and Heather Hyche. A sturdy sleeve holds both the book and the Blu-ray case while the disc itself features a gorgeous new 4K restoration from the original negative, a commentary track with film historian Philip Kemp, a trailer, and the following:
- *NEW* The Key to The Apartment [10:12] – Film historian Philip Kemp offers an appreciation of “the greatest film that Billy Wilder ever made.”
- *NEW* Select scene commentary with Kemp on two scenes [8:37]
- *NEW* The Flawed Couple [20:24] – Filmmaker David Cairns explores the working relationship between Wilder and Lemmon and offers insight into both men’s immensely complimentary talents.
- *NEW* A Letter to Castro [13:23] – An interview with Hope Holiday on her work in the film.
- An Informal Conversation with Billy Wilder [23:17] – An archival interview with Wilder for the Writers Guild Foundation.
- *NEW* Restoration showreel highlighting the extensive work done on the film.
- Inside the Apartment [29:36] – Archival featurette
- Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon [12:47] – Archival featurette
Arrow’s new limited edition release of The Apartment is listed on Amazon but may not be available.