Tonight I watched The Apartment again. I don't really know how many times I have watched the movie, but it is one of my favourite films of all time. I consider it Billy Wilder's greatest movie, even better than Some Like It Hot. Indeed, it is quite possibly the greatest romantic comedy of all time in my opinion.
The Apartment centres on C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), a clerk at the huge Consolidated Life Insurance Company in New York City. Baxter has a unique problem. Becuase he once lent his apartment to someone who needed to change for a wedding, he now finds himself lending his apartment to his superiors for their various rendevous. This puts him in good with his bosses, but makes his life miserable otherwise. Worse yet, Baxter is carrying a torch for elevator operator Miss Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), which leads to further complications... Wilder's inspiration for The Apartment came from a scene in Brief Encounter, in which the two lead characters have a rendevous in the apartment of an unseen character. Wilder was more fascinated by the unseen owner of the apartment than he was the two lead characters.
For me The Apartment is a nearly perfect movie. It is part comedy, part romance, and part drama. Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond's script is excellent. It is a far cry from the sometimes shallow romantic comedies one sees today. The Apartment deals realstically with the compromises with principles and compromises to self respect that occur in the business world, even compromises that could cost a guy the girl he loves. Wilder and Diamond's script is both very dark and sardonic, yet at the same time it has many lighter moments. Somehow they worked out a balance between comedy and drama. As usual, the dialogue is sparkling and realistic--the sort of smart dialogue (complete with a few pop culture references) for which Wilder and Diamond were known.
As to the cast, the performances are fantastic. Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine make Baxter and Kubelik sympathetic, yet flawed. And both actors often reveal their characters' inner feelings subtlely--their facial expressions often revealing more than words could. Fred MacMurray also gives a convincing performance as the less than sympathetic Mr. Sheldrake (once you see The Apartment, you'll never be able to watch My Three Sons in quite the same way again.
I've loved The Apartment ever since I first saw it. While it is not a laugh out loud comedy (although there are some laugh out loud moments), it is one of the funniest films I have ever seen. It is also one of the most romantic films I have ever seen. There is no schmaltz, just genuine feelings in a fairly realistic film.