Saturday, December 22, 2018

Why The Apartment (1960) is a Christmas Movie

Every December Turner Classic Movies shows several classic Christmas movies. One can be guaranteed to see The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Christmas in Connecticut (1945), and It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), and many others on TCM's schedule come the holiday season. One can even be guaranteed to see some movies that many of us don't think of as Christmas movies, such as Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and the various versions of Little Women (don't get me wrong, I love Meet Me in St. Louis--it is one of my all time favourite films, but I have never thought of it as a Christmas movie). That having been said, there is one Christmas movie that one very rarely sees on TCM, despite the fact that they show it at different times during the year. That movie is The Apartment (1960), which also happens to be my second favourite movie of all time and my favourite holiday movie of them all.

Of course, if one read a synopsis of The Apartment, it might not immediately be obvious to him or her that it is a holiday movie. The Apartment centres around C. C. Baxter (played by Jack Lemmon), an employee of an insurance company who allows some of his firm's executives to use his apartment for their romantic trysts. Complicating matters is the fact that Baxter is in love with elevator operator Fran Kubelik (played by Shirley MacLaine), who is having an affair with the head of the company, Mr. Sheldrake (played by Fred MacMurray). Certainly going by this synopsis The Apartment does not sound like a Christmas movie, even though it most certainly is.

First, it must be pointed out that the plot of The Apartment takes place over the entire holiday season. It begins on November 1 and ends on New Year's Eve. Indeed, the bulk of the movie's plot unfolds during the holidays. The office Christmas party plays an important role in the plot. Important events central to the plot take place on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The movie's famous climax takes place on New Year's Eve itself. The Apartment actually takes in more of the holiday season than many other films shown at Christmastime.

Second, not only does most of The Apartment unfold over the holidays, but it features a good deal of Christmas imagery. There are Christmas trees, garland, ornaments, snow, Santa Claus, and more to be seen in The Apartment. A few Christmas songs play in the background of various scenes as well. The Apartment features much more Christmas imagery than many films that TCM shows at this time of year.

Third, at the core of The Apartment are themes central to the holiday season. At one point in The Apartment, Baxter's neighbour Dr. Dreyfuss tells him, "Be a mensch!" And this is essentially the plot of The Apartment. It is about C. C. Baxter's path to becoming a mensch and finding love in doing so. Of course, The Apartment is also about Miss Kubelik finally finding love with someone nice like Baxter. Redemption and rebirth are central themes of the holiday season and as a result can be seen in many Christmas movies. Redemption and rebirth are the central themes of It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, The Bishop's Wife, and It Happened on Fifth Avenue. They are also the central themes of The Apartment.

Ultimately, The Apartment is as much a Christmas movie as It's a Wonderful Life or The Bishop's Wife, and much more of one than Meet Me in St. Louis or any version of Little Women. It has then always puzzled me as to why TCM rarely shows it at least once during the holiday season. As far as I am concerned, The Apartment is as much of a Christmas classic as The Shop Around the Corner, Christmas in Connecticut, or It Happened on Fifth Avenue.

1 comment:

Dennis Bedard said...

There are other movies that merit a footnote or honorable mention in this category. The Godfather I and Goodfellas each had a decent Christmas scene (Michael shopping with Kate on 5th Avenue and the infamous Frosty The Snowman party in Goodfellas).