THE APARTMENT (1960)
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray
Where: Busan Cinematheque
When: Saturday March 28 at 14:00, Thursday April 2 at 17:10, Friday April 10 at 13:00
It’s easy to mistake “The Apartment” for a fairly simple and light-hearted romantic comedy, one of many that came out of Hollywood during the 40s and 50s (a number of which were directed by legendary director Billy Wilder himself). Yet, beneath its smooth surface, the film is actually quite subversive.
C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a young insurance salesman trying to rise in the company ranks by lending the key to his apartment to the higher-ups, who take turns bringing girls there for a little hanky-panky. Soon enough though, things start disrupting his personal life.
Wilder spends the first act exploiting this amusing situation for laughs. Baxter is frequently unable to get into his own apartment when all he wants to do is take a long-deserved rest. Meanwhile, the landlady and neighbors - who already have him pinned for a duplicitous ladies man on account of all the women that come over - grow increasingly suspicious of what’s going on next-door.
However, what begins as a harmless romp quickly takes on a more critical tone. The film presents the business executive - the ideal American man - as self-serving and immoral. Baxter’s sleazeball superiors are brutish, ass-grabbing womanizers who cheat on their wives and lie to their lovers. But their biggest character flaw is their lack of humanity, which serves as a wider indictment against the heartless capitalist system that encourages and even rewards dubious behavior. The protagonist seems to be the only caring and considerate person in the giant skyscraper where he works, but as the saying goes, “nice guys finish last.”
Unlike Wilder’s other comedies, the film openly addresses some serious taboos in addition to its assault on core American values. While “The Seven Year Itch” (1955) and “Some Like It Hot” (1959) previously touched upon what was controversial subject matter at the time, both movies play it relatively safe by keeping it all in good fun. In “The Apartment,” the humor is supplanted by a sobering act of desperation - the female lead’s attempted suicide. What’s more, adultery is treated in a completely casual manner, implying that it’s more common than people like to admit.
This analysis may turn off some viewers who just want a couple hours of wholesome entertainment. Well, look no further. You don’t have to read into the film so much to enjoy it. At face value, “The Apartment” is a delectable movie that showcases the talent and charm of its two stars, Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.