The Apartment was the last black and white film to win the coveted Best Picture award, and there is no better film to act as that era’s swan song. Jack Lemmon plays C.C. Baxter, the man so nice they named him twice. Baxter is an insurance salesman with a Rolodex as big as his heart, but his ambitions outweigh his dignity. In order to get ahead in his company, he has agreed to lend his apartment to various upper-level managers for their extramarital affairs in exchange for promotions within the company.
When Mr. Sheldrake, the personnel director of the company, suspects that all the praise for Baxter reeks of outside factors at work, he summons Baxter to his office to get to the bottom of it. Of course, when Baxter’s special arrangements are revealed, Mr. Sheldrake wants in as well. Mr. Sheldrake gives Baxter two tickets to see a production of “The Music Man” to secure his night away from the apartment. Baxter sees this as an opportunity to finally ask Miss Kubelik out, an elevator girl that is the talk of every man in the company. The catch: Miss Kubelik happens to be the woman Mr. Sheldrake is going to be bringing to Baxter’s apartment, unbeknownst to Baxter and to Miss Kubelik.
The Apartment was written and directed by Billy Wilder, who won the awards for both aspects of the film. It’s a genuinely sweet film that deals with some pretty dark topics, rendering itself light and dark at the same time. It’s billed as a romantic drama, and there is no denying the chemistry between the two leads, but ultimately it’s about Baxter’s road to self-respect. Baxter leads a lonely life but is oblivious to the fact that he only has himself to blame. Eventually he comes to a crossroad, where he has to choose what’s more important: his career or his dignity?
Although it clocks in at a little over two hours, this is a perfect Friday night movie. It has a little bit of everything, and is expertly crafted for maximum entertainment. Jack Lemmon gives a fantastic performance, and he makes you sympathize with a character that in reality would come off as quite pathetic. The script is very tightly constructed despite its fairly long running time, and fires on all cylinders. This is one of those films where every piece of it fits together perfectly. They don’t make films like this anymore, and I suspect that’s because it’s harder than it appears.