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CC Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a bright young insurance clerk working for a large firm in New York. Anxious to get ahead, Baxter agrees to let his boss J.D. Sheldrake and a number of other senior executives use his conveniently located apartment as a place to meet their mistresses. As Baxter finds himself rising in the corporate hierarchy, he considers asking the building's attractive elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley Maclaine) out on a date, not realising that she is the woman Sheldrake is having an affair with.

Billy Wilder co-wrote and directed The Apartment in 1960, right after he did the even better-known Some Like It Hot. It's hard to think of anyone currently working in Hollywood who could remotely match his achievement in making these two contrasting but equally brilliant comedies back to back. Jack Lemmon, who stars in both, was also at his peak, a fascinating actor capable of combining traditional physical comedy with a modern sense of performance as neurosis. Lemmon throws himself into the role of Baxter to the point where he can be hard to watch - there's something repulsive in the character's abject eagerness to please, as he banters cheerfully with his fellow employees and cringes to his sleazy boss (a superb performance by Fred MacMurray). Psychoanalytic concepts are rarely far from the surface in Hollywood comedies of this era, and Baxter (like many characters played by Lemmon) is essentially a victim of castration. Made to appear less than a man by MacMurray and the other executives who serve as a chorus of father figures, he takes on a self-abasingly feminine role: in allowing strangers to use his private space for sex, he's less a pimp than a barely metaphorical prostitute. Films satirising the corporate rat race were also common in the Hollywood of the 50s and early 60s, but Wilder cuts closer to the bone than most. With stars like Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine who can manage both comedy and drama, he doesn't shy away from the queasy aspects of the theme: the plot develops slowly and the style is restrained, even drab. A master of script construction, Wilder is always a total professional, sometimes a bit too much so. The muted happy ending doesn't quite convince, and the slick dialogue is sometimes obtrusive - you sense the finicky care Wilder and his co-writer I.A.L. Diamond put into establishing minor plot points and running gags. With its somewhat edgy subject matter, the film would seem to defy the Hollywood conventions of its time; in fact it relies on these conventions and uses them with great skill, while hinting at realities that can't quite be contained within a work of entertainment.
Jake Wilson

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CAST: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen

DIRECTOR: Billy Wilder

PRODUCER: Billy Wilder

SCRIPT: I.A.L. Diamond, Billy Wilder


EDITOR: Daniel Mandell

MUSIC: Adolph Deutsch

RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 16, 2001 (Melb Only)

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