Oscars Challenge #63: The Apartment (1960) Movie Review
The Apartment may be one of the most dull-sounding Best Picture winners like Oliver! or The Grand Hotel, but this one is on a different caliber script-wise, story-wise, theme-wise, and character-wise.
With so much wiseness, The Apartment is one for the books. Its writing is so brilliant that it keeps you on your toes for the movie. It's like riding a thrilling, enjoyable rollercoaster with many sharp turns, loops, and ups and downs that will leave you more than satisfied.
This Best Picture winner at the 33rd Academy Awards starts with a brief and only narration of our main character, C.C. Baxter, on how he views his life and job in New York City. The movie doesn't give you many details, but you get a sense of it as you go along with the story.
Like all corporate employees in New York, he dreams of being in a higher position. He doesn't want to stay as an average office guy in the insurance company because of his repetitive tasks. To hasten his promotion, he secretly lends his Apartment to his superiors when they want to spend lovey-dovey time with their mistresses.
One day, Baxter was called upon the office of Mr. Jeff Shelldrake, the top executive, after discovering that he had heard rumors from other executives using his apartment. To his surprise, Mr. Shelldrake also wants to use the apartment for the same purpose as the others. Baxter also has a secret crush on the elevator girl, Fran Kubelick, who had a secret affair with Mr. Shelldrake.
Things get more complicated when Baxter's feelings toward Fran get more intimate. At the same time, she tries to determine if Shelldrake would divorce his wife after hearing from other female employees that his promise is common among other women she had an affair with in the past.
The Apartment brought in the incredible talents of Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter, Shirley MacLaine as Fran Kubelick, and Fred McMurray as Mr. Jeff Shelldrake—another Best Picture winner from the renowned director, Billy Wilder.
We must look at a few things to properly break down this movie, the characters, the script, the story, and the plot setup.
The Apartment introduces as briefly with our main character, C.C. Baxter, an average New York City desk employee who has no self-decision and instead relies on his peers or bosses to improve his status. When he submits his apartment to the top executives while he suffers in cleaning it up after they leave or sometimes staying late outside, this shows his personality of being a follower. We never see it adequately explained in the film, but the scenes show you enough evidence.
Fran Kubelick, pretty much like Baxter, is an average elevator operator. We learn when she tells her story to Baxter that she is used to people taking advantage of her. She is used to having fling relationships that do not end well. For almost 90% of her appearance, she does not break from her shell of being a stereotypical easy-to-get woman.
Mr. Jeff Sheldrake, the top boss, is like a real pain-the-ass character. He knows how to take advantage and does it to everyone he can control. It's either you hate him or hate him more. There's no other way around it.
These three main characters may be typical, but the way they are intertwined in the story-are beautiful. They are integrated with precision and care that you feel like rooting for something to turn them around.
Billy Wilder's films are known for having well-written scripts. But this movie just cemented his legacy. For most of the film, the fate of our characters is not explained very well but is shown through their interactions with others or the setting. Instead of giving the audience the proper answers for certain scenes, he hides them and gives clues. This writing is also evident in the Western thriller, No Country For Old Men.
Another thing about the script is that even though we watch the three main characters throughout the film, we are as clueless as C.C. Baxter. It's pretty astonishing for a romantic comedy to be executed in such a fashion because it perfectly misdirects you from the main storyline.
Also, the script perfectly integrates with the characters' development throughout the movie. Once C.C. Baxter says some random quotes, then, after a few minutes, Fran will use the same script. It shows that it is carefully written with care and passion.
The Story And Plot Setup
Even if you have the perfect characters and script, it will not work out if the story is subpar. The Apartment is entirely otherworldly when it comes to the story. It might be the perfect rollercoaster movie because of how it sways back and forth that keeps you hooked.
When I watched the film for the first time, I had no clue what to expect or anticipate. But what surprised me was how the plot setup works. In the middle of the story, when Baxter takes care of Fran in his apartment after she tries to overdose on sleeping pills, we hear his story. He has a past relationship that led him to try to shoot himself. By the film's end, when Baxter decides to leave his apartment, we see the gun again, anticipating that he will try to kill himself because he will never be with Fran. It unknowingly builds anticipation and doubt when the main character suddenly blurts out a side of himself that will soon be integral during the climax.
It felt like C.C. Baxter's quote summed up the whole story, "That's the way it crumbles, cookie-wise," which was used by Fran during the climax.
The Apartment is arguably one of the best films of all time. It perfectly shows how to develop a character, story, and mystery. It adds simple humor to make you more interested and entertained. A story that is way ahead of its time. This one will be engraved in film history.
A perfect 5 out of 5 stars.