The Apartment (1960), written and directed by Billy Wilder, is a film about a guy, C.C. Baxter, who is a total slave to his corporation. He lets the higher ups in his company use his apartment for their various affairs, and in exchange, they promote him for his discretion. He gets a crush on the cute elevator operator, but finds out that she is one of the women that his boss is cheating on his wife with, and that he has been bringing her back to Baxter's apartment. Drama! Conflict! And humor, of course.
Billy Wilder is a great writer, and this script was so tight and well-crafted. I love the characters - even the supporting characters felt like they had a lot of depth and personality. Women who were on screen for a few minutes are stuck in my head because they were very three dimensional, even for such small roles. It is really fun and refreshing to find a film that has a such a good balance between humor and seriousness. There are many sad and tragic moments in the film. They are treated seriously, but also comedically, at the same time. That seems like a pretty hard balance to strike, but it was very well done.
I could write about the cinematography, and while it was striking and fantastic, there were other things that stood out to me more in this film. In particular, the women characters. I really loved that they seemed very strong and they seemed in control, to some extent. When Mr. Sheldrake fires his secretary, who he had an affair with, she calls his wife to tell him of his infidelity. His wife immediately kicks him out - good for her! I loved that Miss Kubelik was rewarded at the end of the film, as well, not punished for her affair or questionable taste in men. She still can have nice things, a nice man, and they both can make the choice to not be slaves to their jobs or company anymore. Ebert says of her performance, "What is particularly good about her Miss Kubelik is the way she doesn't make her a ditzy dame who falls for a smooth talker, but suggests a young woman who has been lied to before, who has a good heart but finite patience, who is prepared to make the necessary compromises to be the next Mrs. Sheldrake" (The Great Movies, 35). She isn't stupid, it's the men in the movie who are using Baxter's apartment for their affairs who come off as stupid.
The historical context of the film was really interesting to me as well. My mom, who grew up watching Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, was curious if the film was controversial for showing men having affairs and things of that nature.Was that the reality of office life, and people were just not talking about it? It seems like that maybe was the case, although I don't have an answer to that, really. My grandma told me that women did get hit on in the office a lot, and didn't really have a choice about it - if you talked about it, rumors would spread, and you couldn't talk about that sort of thing. She said that "There was no one to go to." So in that sense, it seems like this movie was exposing what was happening in some offices, were shows like Leave it to Beaver were ignoring that fact and sort of supporting the lack of communication about these issues. As for the reception of the film, Wikipedia says that the film was regarded as controversial, but was a huge success, even winning the Oscar for best picture that year. I guess this issue still needs further investigating on my part, since Ebert doesn't write much about this aspect of the film.
Ebert's essay talks a lot about Wilder and his other films, which, aside from Double Indemnity, I am not familiar with. I do know that I have to watch them during this project, so maybe I will better understand some of what he is saying after that. I really enjoyed this movie a lot, though. I knew Wilder was pretty fantastic, and my opinion of him was only supported by this movie. It was really fun to watch it, and it was fun to ponder about it with my mom afterward. It made for quite a lovely late, cozy afternoon. :)
Ebert's Great Movie Essay