By Guy Toyn

Billy Wilder’s masterpiece ‘The Apartment’ (1960) is one of the few films that meet Oscar Wilde’s premise that all great art is at once both ‘surface and symbol.’
 
On face value, it is a heart-tugging romantic comedy in which Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacClaine and Fred MacMurray turn in the best performances of their careers.
 
But on another level it is an indictment of corruption and immorality at heart of the American dream,  which says anyone can make it – as long as you don’t mind stepping on a few heads on the way up.
 
The film asks us to decide if we  should go through life as a ‘taker’ like MacMurray’s brilliantly observed lothario Jeff Sheldrake, or someone who ‘gets took’  as depicted by his wise-cracking mistress Fran Kubelik, played by MacLaine. 
 
Lemmon is CC Baxter (‘C for Calvin, C for Clifford but most people call me Bud’) an insurance clerk who finds opportunities for promotion come easier if he allows his colleagues to use his flat to conduct their extra marital liaisons.
 
He flies up the corporate ladder when personnel manager  MacMurray starts using the apartment too, but problems start when ‘loyal, reliable’ Lemmon becomes smitten with MacLaine, who then finds out she is only the latest in a long line of MacMurray conquests.
 
Director Wilder penned as close as anyone ever got to a perfect script with long-time writing partner Izzy Diamond and only Sunset Boulevard comes anywhere near  ‘The Apartment’ as Wilder’s best film.
 
It has a fantastic supporting cast and a tremendous score, complete with one of the most hypnotic pieces of big band latin ever heard in cinema.
 
There are hugely quotable lines such as ‘Shut up and deal’  from the now famous end shot, to my favourite, delivered sardonically by MacMurray: ‘Tell me Baxter, what is about you that makes you so popular?’ 
 
The movie has the believability the hugely overrated ‘Some Like it Hot’ lacks, and it is full of both humour and pathos. It is also a deeply thought-provoking film that can be watched every year at Christmas, long after you get bored of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life.’ 
 
The Apartment was the last fully black and white movie to win the Oscar for best picture and it also took the honours for best director and script, showing the academy does sometimes actually get it right.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.