C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is one of the many faceless worker bees in a New York insurance company. Baxter is a nice guy, but he's also the type of guy who doesn't stand up for himself or really separate himself from the pack.
|Insurance agencies: where unique snowflakes go to melt|
|Above: Baxter and the managers of Total Bastards, Inc.|
The thing that surprised me most about The Apartment was its subject matter. For the first half of the film, the idea of serial adulterers is played for laughs; the only consequence shown was Baxter catching cold because he had to wait in the rain while his place was being used as a hanky-panky den. This was widely released in America in 1960, so I imagined that a Leave it to Beaver nation would get offended by a theme like this; apparently not. The second half marks an abrupt shift in tone, as one of the consequences of adultery is shown to be suicide, and that also seems like something that wouldn't have played in Peoria, at least not back in the day.
|Nowadays, though, we're all like, "Kung fu that bee-yatch"|
I haven't seen very much of Jack Lemmon as a young actor, so it feels strange to admit this, but...I don't think I care for Lemmon as a comic actor in his youth. I'm not exactly sure why, either. Sure, he hams it up a bit, but I don't think he's any more guilty than other contemporary actors. Maybe I just dislike his put-upon everyman character that seems to be a common theme in his early work. Whatever the case, I didn't like Lemmon in the first half of this movie.
|Hold that thought; I'm not done with you yet|
|"I'm tired of this movie. If I settle for you, can we cut to the credits?"|
|Really, he's more of a Bjorn Boring than anything else|
Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote The Apartment, which surprised me. Maybe I just haven't experienced enough Wilder, but I think it's pretty interesting that he would intentionally set himself up with such a shift in tone. Does he pull it off? Well, I didn't enjoy the first half of the movie very much. It felt like the sort of fluff that Jerry Lewis would star in, and I think that it has aged poorly. However, I really enjoyed the rest of the film. Wilder isn't the most dramatic director in regards to his cinematography, but I really liked some of the frame compositions in this film. I also thought it was an interesting choice to make this a black-and-white film; thanks to the almost bleak hues, it is easy to forget that this movie takes place mostly during the time between Christmas and New Year's Day. Keeping the film in shades of grey makes the character's loneliness and desperation stand out more, but very subtly.
|Not always subtly, but most of the time|
As much as I enjoy the second half of the film --- I won't say it's great, but it is pretty darn good --- I just can't get over how disinterested I was in the first half. I liked what Wilder was able to do when he mixed the serious and the humorous, and I loved the second-half performances, but when I think of The Apartment, I think of Jack Lemmon whining. Maybe one day I will come back to this movie and, knowing what's in store, be pleasantly surprised with how the film has grown on me. For now, though, I have to give it a fairly mediocre rating.