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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Movies You Should Watch: THE APARTMENT

Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT is perhaps the grimmest comedy of all time. I have called it "the funniest movie I know of that has a suicide attempt on Christmas Eve."

THE APARTMENT is centered on C.C. "Bud" Baxter (Jack Lemmon), a junior number cruncher at Consolidated Life in New York. Bud's apartment is used by the senior executives at the firm for trysts with their insignificant others before they head home on the commuter train to the missus.

The loud and non-stop sexual activity in Bud's apartment concerns his neighbor, Dr. Dreyfuss, a middle-aged doctor who thinks that it's Baxter doing all the cavorting he hears through the thin walls. He also notices the empty booze bottles piling up in his trash. "Slow down, kid."

Bud's supporters in the executive suites all recommend him for promotion, which gets the attention of personnel director Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). When Sheldrake hears about Bud's key club, he shuts it down for the good of the company -- can't have any scandal -- and starts using it himself. Exclusively.

The object of Sheldrake's extramarital attention is pert elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirtey MacLaine, in her second film role). Sheldrake starts pursuing her in earnest, trading access to Baxter's place for a promotion and two tickets to hit show "The Music Man."

Baxter, for his part, is also sweet on Kubelik and asks her to join him at "Music Man." She agrees to meet him after she has dinner "with a girlfriend."

She stands Baxter up, seduced by Sheldrake at Baxter's place.

When Baxter puts two and two together -- finding that the nominally-married Sheldrake is doing his philandering with Kubelik, at his place -- it is shown visually in a way that should be studied by film students.

When Sheldrake and Kubelik rendezvous at Baxter's place on Christmas Eve, Baxter, inconsolable, goes to a bar and stars downing martinis. He hooks up with a woman whose husband is in jail and takes her to his place, and is unpleasantly surprised to find Miss Kubelik asleep in his bed.

Not asleep, really, more like passed out.

With an empty bottle of sleeping pills in her hand.

Baxter flips and gets the doctor next door to help him revive her, forgetting for the moment that he has a second woman cha-cha-ing in his living room. Which does not win him any points with the doctor, who shelves his displeasure long enough to help the somnolent Kubelik, who is thisclose to death. Further complications ensue, as Miss Kubelik recovers at Baxter's over Christmas as her family worries about her, finally sending her brother in law the cab driver to chase her down. He finds her at Baxter's and is Not Pleased.

As hard as it may be to believe, there is a happy ending to this.

The movie was a great success, and Billy Wilder took home three Oscars for his work, one for directing, one for writing (with collaborator I.A.L. Diamond) and one for Best Picture, which he received as producer of the film.

More interestingly, the film is a document of the changing morality of the postwar era, as promiscuity and infidelity are not only presented in a matter-of-fact manner, but do not inevitably lead to horrible repercussions.

The DVD cover misleadingly gives the impression that the film is a light sex comedy, when it is anything but.

THE APARTMENT is a likeable, enjoyable film -- okay, maybe a little sordid -- that doesn't date as much as you might think considering that it is more than 50 years old.

THE APARTMENT -- a movie you should watch.