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Bud Baxter is a struggling clerk in a huge New York insurance company. He's discovered a quick way to climb the corporate ladder - by lending out his apartment to the executives as a place to take their mistresses. He often has to deal with the aftermath of their visits and one night he's left with a major problem to solve.
For more about The Apartment and the The Apartment Blu-ray release, see the The Apartment Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on January 27, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis (III)
Director: Billy Wilder
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The Apartment Blu-ray Review
One of Billy Wilder's best, and that's saying something.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, January 27, 2012
Immediately after his wildly successful cross-dressing farce Some Like It Hot, there must've been great temptation--and studio pressure--for the great Billy Wilder to take a similarly slapstick route with his following film. Instead, he made a dark and controversial comedic drama, one that deals with adultery, suicide, and the chauvinistic sexual politics of the workplace. It's also a real tear-inducer. I'm not going to lie. The Apartment gets me every time. I'm not sure if its the sad Christmastime setting, Shirley MacLaine's heartbroken performance, or the fact that Jack Lemmon's character is just so unimpeachably swell--it's probably all three--but the Oscar-sweeping romantic comedy never fails to get my waterworks going. But "romantic comedy" almost seems like a misnomer here--you'd certainly never call The Apartment a rom-com-- as both the relationships and the laughs are tinged with weary, lovelorn pathos. You ache for these characters. You carry the weight of their worries. You want them to find each other and be happy despite the cynicism and wariness of their pasts. It's a total cliche to say "they don't make 'em like they used to," but when it comes to romantic comedies, they most definitely don't.
Lemmon plays C.C. Baxter, a lonely, low-rank number cruncher at New York's Consolidated Life Insurance, where he sits amid a sea of similar droids, all cranking out facts and figures until their shift is over at 5:20. But Baxter often hangs around for a few hours more. He says he's just waiting for the commute to be less crowded, but the real reason is that he's been loaning out his 67th Street apartment in the evenings to three of his office superiors--Mr. Dobsich (Ray Walston), Mr. Eichelberger (David White), and Mr. Vanderhoff (Willard Waterman)--who use it as a safe place to conduct their extramarital affairs. In return, they dangle the carrot of a promotion in front of Baxter, who feels put-upon but sees the whole arrangement as a way to possibly rise quickly through the ranks. He's also developing quite an inadvertent ladies man reputation with his Jewish neighbor, Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen), who hears girls coming and going--but mostly coming, if you catch my drift--every night of the week.
The first act is essentially a satire on the man's world of the 1960s workplace, where women are relegated to being secretaries, telephone switchboard operators, or elevator girls, and where it takes real sycophantic guile to get ahead. Baxter gets a big leg up--a new position, and an office with a view-- when the company's womanizing head honcho, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), catches wind of C.C.'s apartment operation and bargains for exclusive use of the bachelor pad. What Baxter doesn't know, however, is that Mr. Sheldrake's current mistress is the very same elevator girl, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), for whom Baxter himself has developed a sizable crush. And therein lies the film's dramatic crux. Once Baxter finds out about the affair, will he cow to his boss, or will he stand up for what's right? Of course, it's not quite as simple as that; fate and miscommunication and fortuitous timing also play a significant part.
Shirley MacLaine kills me here. Absolutely kills me. She's just too good. Her Fran is sweet but tough, tired of being strung along by Sheldrake and wary of being a home-wrecker. When she tears up in their favorite Chinese restaurant--discussing why Sheldrake will never leave his wife for her-- you'll wish you could've been on set to give her a hug after such a wrenching, convincing performance. There's so much pain in her eyes, and you can practically read her character's life story in them, a history of being used and ditched by undeserving men. And then there's the brilliant, rubber-faced Jack Lemmon, whose Baxter is deserving. He's gentlemanly and conscientious, kind and long-suffering, and Fran notes with appreciation that he's the only guy in the office who still takes his hat off when he enters her elevator. It's no spoiler to reveal that they end up together--this is a romance, not a tragedy, after all--but Wilder's genius is in the way he delays the inevitable and withholds the big, soppy emotions that tend to capsize more sentimental movies. Even the film's famous last line--"Shut up and deal"--leaves us perfectly unfulfilled; Wilder doesn't end with a storybook wedding, but takes us to the beginning of a relationship that we can only hope works out. And I like to think it does.
Considering its sexually frank subject matter, The Apartment was provocative for its time, looking unblinkingly at the dirty business of corporate good old boys who make a sport of running around on their wives. It also takes some narrative risks that other comedic dramas would be too gutless to take, like Sheldrake's gift of a $100 bill to Fran--a gift that makes her feel an awful lot like a prostitute--and her subsequent pill-popping suicide attempt on Christmas Eve, a dark turn of events that sets the stage for Baxter's caring intervention in her life. The scenes that follow are some of my favorites in the film: Baxter nursing Fran back to health as she lies in his bed, wearing his robe. Baxter puttering about the apartment, singing operatically while he fixes dinner, straining spaghetti through a tennis racker. Baxter and Fran having long talks while playing gin rummy. It's sweet without going saccharine, poignant without being gushy, all thanks to Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond's sardonic and cautious tone, which acknowledges that while sex is fairly easy to come by, real love is elusive.
At the 33rd Academy Awards, The Apartment was nominated for ten trophies and won five, including Best Writing, Best Director, Best Editing and Best Picture. (Incidentally, it was the last black and white feature until Schindler's List to win the Best Picture prize.) It also took the Best Art Direction/Set Decoration Oscar for its depiction of an enormous, mid-century modernist office building. If you're wondering where Mad Men gets much of its visual inspirations, look no further. The wood paneling, the floor-to-ceiling glass, the sleek elevators, the tacky, faux-Oriental restaurant interiors--it's all here. Those more familiar with the AMC series than with Billy Wilder may expect Don Draper to come waltzing into Baxter's office, looking to borrow that apartment key.
The Apartment Blu-ray, Video Quality
Just beautiful. Shot by Joseph LaShelle, the DP best known for his work on Otto Preminger's noir films Laura and Fallen Angel, The Apartment distinguishes itself from other comedies of the day with a black and white widescreen image that's rich and shadowy. MGM has definitely done LaShelle's cinematography justice here, giving us a completely satisfying 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. To start, the print is very nearly immaculate; you'll notice a few scattered white specks--very few--but otherwise the image is exceptionally clean. Not scrubbed, but naturally clean. There are no signs of excessive noise reduction or edge enhancement, and the 35mm grain structure is visible and fine. The monochromatic tonal balance is just about perfect too. Blacks are deep without crushing detail, whites are bright but not overblown, and there's a wide spectrum of grays in between. There's also a significant bump in clarity from previous standard definition releases--everything is tighter, more refined, better detailed, from the clothing and facial textures to the swank, Mad Men-inspiring 1960s interior design.
The Apartment Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Apartment originally featured single-channel audio, but for this Blu-ray release, MGM has subtly expanded the mono mix into a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Don't worry, purists; there's nothing here that now sounds jolting or out-of-place. In fact, there's hardly any rear- speaker engagement at all. The mix is still anchored firmly up front, with the surround channels really only helping to give Adolph Deutsch's romantic score some breathing room. The music sounds wonderful--clear and full and not tinny at all--and in all other respects, this mix is exactly what you'd expect from a turn-of-the-1960s romantic comedy, with minimal ambient effects and prioritized dialog. The audio is fairly clean--no distracting hisses, pops, or splice crackles--and nicely balanced. Set your receiver to your normal listening level, and you won't have to touch the volume for the rest of the film. The disc also includes Spanish and French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono dubs, along with optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles, which appear in easy-to-read white lettering.
The Apartment Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Apartment Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A few months ago, MGM put out Some Like It Hot on Blu-ray for the first time, and now The Apartment--Billy Wilder's equally successful followup--is getting its much-deserved high definition debut. Both films are must-haves, as far as I'm concerned--exceptionally witty, well-written, and emotionally mature. The Apartment is the more serious of the two, and it's also the more affecting; if Shirley MacLaine's performance doesn't leave you with tears welling up in the corner of your eyes, you might need to book an appointment with the optometrist to find out what's wrong with you. Highly recommended!
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The Apartment Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: Six January 24th MGM Titles - January 15, 2012
Blu-ray.com and MGM Home Entertainment are offering eighteen Blu-ray.com members the opportunity to win their choice of one of six January 24th MGM catalog classics: Annie Hall, The Apartment, Manhattan, Notorious, Rebecca or Spellbound. Three copies of each film ...
• The Apartment Blu-ray (Updated) - January 9, 2012
MGM Home Entertainment has quietly added up to its September slate of Blu-ray releases Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960), starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. The Blu-ray is up for pre-order at Amazon with a release date of January 24th.
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