Romance at its most anti-romantic--that is the Billy Wilder stamp of genius, and this Best Picture Academy Award winner from 1960 is no exception. Set in a decidedly unsavory world of corporate climbing and philandering, the great filmmaker's trenchant, … see full wiki
J.D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) uses and abuses Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) to satisfy his lust; moreover, he exploits the naked ambition of C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemon) so that he (Sheldrake) and other senior-level executives can use Baxter's small apartment for their sexual dalliances. Baxter exchanges his "cooperation" and "discretion" for a series of corporate promotions. He is also attracted to Kubelik (obviously the film's most sympathetic character) and only much later realizes the nature and extent of Sheldrake's callous exploitation of her vulnerabilities. His "deal with the devil" upsets him only when he becomes aware of its human implications (i.e. Kubelik) and its impact on his own self-respect. Baxter's process of enlightenment is comparable with that of another character played by Lemon, Joe Clay, in Days of Wine and Roses (1962). Of special interest to me is Wilder's use of the Dr. Dreyfuss character (Jack Kruschen). He functions somewhat as a Greek chorus as the narrative progresses, sharing his opinions, but also becomes actively involved when his professional assistance is needed. I was also intrigued by MacMurray's performance in a role unlike almost all of the others he has played in films and television programs. Perhaps only a director with Wilder's talents could elicit such a performance. He received and deserved Academy Awards for direction and for co-authorship (with I.A.L. Diamond) for best original screenplay. The Apartment was selected for an Academy Award as best film, also well-deserved. Although the corporate machinations it examines may now seem dated, Wilder's guarded affirmation of human decency does not.
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