The list of reasons why this film is great is many, but the most important is the director, co-producer, and co-screenwriter Billy Wilder. Billy Wilder had an incredible eye for detail, subtlety, comedy, and sincerity. Under his watchful eye the film, despite its controversy, was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won 5. His direction is flawless, his script is razor-sharp and super tight. The way he blends heavy drama and comedy is remarkable. You never feel that the drama has been diminished by comedy or vice versa, they work together seamlessly. Each character he has created, whether central or supporting, is memorable.
The actors delivering Wilder’s dialogue are all worthy of special mention. Baxter’s senior colleagues carry their comically self-centered sense of entitlement unquestionably. Baxter’s neighbours; the good Dr Dreyfuss, played by Jack Kruschen, and his wife Mildred, played Naomi Stevens, scream for more screen time. Then there is Fred MacMurray. While MacMurray is no stranger to playing a variety of roles, he is generally remembered as the likable widowed father in the American sitcom My Three Sons. His Mr Sheldrake in “The Apartment” is any but nice or likable. Finally, there are the two leads who steal our hearts and bring us into their… well at least Baxter’s living room.
Filmed in black and white Panavision, the cinematography is to die for. New York looks incredible and vast, yet at the same time, it isolates and boxes in Baxter which adds to his loneliness. The sets, from the massive office floor where Baxter initially appears as just one of the endless worker bees to his apartment which draws you in and becomes a character of its own, are all brilliant.
While the film may be over 60 years old it will resonate with just as many viewers of today as it did then… if not more. This is a film that finds its way into people’s hearts and minds and stays there. It becomes a part of you, a part that you never want to let go of.
By Steven Scheloske