Sunday 3 June 2018 11.46pm
‘When it’s Not Your Apartment’ 2018
The Apartment (1960)
A Billy Wilder Film
Top 100 Films Ever Made –
The Apartment is not amongst the films in the 2012 BFI Critics Poll (coming in at #127)
The Apartment is equal #44 with Le Mepris (1963), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Hour of the Wolf (1968), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) in the 2012 BFI Directors Poll
It suddenly occurred to me at around 2am (last night, but actually today) that Sabrina (1954), one of my favourite films ever – in the history of the world – also co-written and directed by Billy Wilder – could be a follow-up, the same night, just like I did a double-bill with two Stanley Kubrick films a few nights ago. Then, I realised, that like Kubrick with The Shining, Billy Wilder has another film which appears on the Directors List but not the on that of the critics: The Apartment (1960). Although I’ve given up trying to complete the Directors List as well as the Critics List in one year, I’m still trying to get as close to both goals by 30 June, 2018, as I can.
I’m guessing that I saw the film on television as a teenager because I was always a mad Billy-Wilder-fan, who loved Sabrina and Some Like it Hot, The Fortune Cookie and Ace in the Hole, and even really liked Avanti. I have, however, what feels like a very old memory of The Apartment which is as follows:
I grew up with Fred MacMurray, an actor, being a big part of my life. As a child I remember seeing him on a weekly basis as the kind-hearted, always reasonable and down-to-earth, father, Steve Douglas, on the television comedy series, My Three Sons. I also knew him from some of my favourite Disney movies, The Absent-Minded Professor and Son of Flubber (also kind-hearted), as well as the man known simply as (the kind-hearted) Father in The Happiest Millionaire (1967) and the hilarious Charley and the Angel (1973) – I was only ten at the time, so I thought it was a very funny film – and the not-so-hilarious, The Shaggy Dog (1959). A favourite – what I call – ‘champagne’ comedy of mine which I watched every time it was on television, was Woman’s World.
Then, as a teenager, I came across a darker side to his persona when I saw Double Indemnity (1944) (which was my first viewing of one of the best films I’d ever seen, and it still probably is) and Face of a Fugitive, which I watched because it was one of the earliest film scores by my favourite composer, Jerry Goldsmith. I also tracked him down in a minor film with Claudette Colbert called No Time for Love (1943) which made me laugh so hard my ribs hurt. To this day, I’m still the only one I know who has seen this film. I watched it one night on commercial tv – when I was maybe fifteen? – at 1 or 2 in the morning, when they usually showed rubbish from midnight until dawn. I didn’t remember MacMurray from The Caine Mutiny as much as I remembered Humphrey Bogart, who really broke-out from his stereotypical self and stole the show. The point is, that Fred MacMurray was 99% of the time the nicest guy you’d ever meet, no matter what you saw him in. He wasn’t grim or mean. He was solid and reliable and always had believable credibility.
Then one day in my efforts to track down all the Billy Wilder films, I saw The Apartment. MacMurray was similarly affable – I think I would have been between eighteen and twenty when I saw this film – but there was a darkness to his character which really disturbed me. I think the reason it so disturbed me was because I remember so clearly that on the surface he was still the same likeable, reasonable-kind-of-guy, that he always was. What you see is what you get. But not in The Apartment. How he chooses to show himself has the same easy charm on the surface but as the film progresses it becomes more and more sinister. It’s self-serving and horribly manipulative and the reason it works so well, is that he plays against the stereotype of almost every film I’d ever seen him in. He’s not nice, and the more the surface of his character is scraped away, the more you see a heartless beast who uses his position and power to get whatever he wants, no matter the cost.
That’s my first memory of The Apartment. Fred MacMurray was mean. The second memory was that Jack Lemmon was really nice; really kind. The third and last memory was that it was very funny because poor C. C. Baxter was walking around outside the apartment he lived in because all of these people above him in the workplace food-chain were manipulating him so they could have their surreptitious rendezvous with beautiful women while he shivered in the cold and tried to advance himself in the business for which he worked by being a nice guy and accommodating everyone.
However old I was when I saw the film, I didn’t get what was happening, outside of the obvious, which was that he wanted to be promoted. The sad, heartless, second half of the film didn’t stick with me over the years. The idea of men having an apartment which they could go to on a weekly basis to do their adulterous deeds wasn’t retained in my brain. Nor was the effect that lying could have on girls in love with married men. Nor the fact that it could drive someone to suicide. Nor the fact that it is a film which presents itself as one kind of film for one half and then morphs into a completely different film. It’s as if Some Like it Hot got to the halfway point and turned into The Lost Weekend; or Sabrina somehow segued into Stalag 17. My teenage brain erased the second half of The Apartment only to remember it now – a little, scene-by-scene – as the scenes played out. It was that curious experience of only remembering that you’ve seen the scene before while you watched the scene unfold.
By the end, it was devastating. An important event, forty-years between viewings.