The Apartment (1960)
The Apartment is a landmark for changing attitudes in society, particularly around sex. I was startled by Mrs Miniver in the 1940’s when a husband and wife had to take seperate beds, and even in Gigi in the late 50’s the sexual innuendo was so watered down I barely noticed it. Just two years later in The Apartment we have a film which explicitly tells us that sexual acts are occouring, marking a sharp turnaround in attitudes towards sex and sexuality. As if Shirley MacLaine’s short haircut were not scandelous enough.
The film stars Jack Lemon as a rather depressed middle-aged man climbing the corporate ladder by lending his apartment to his superiors for their extra-marital romps. Lemon is a very talented and versatile actor – he can play up and then pull his performance right back again, which is a great marker of a skilled and distinguished actor. Shirley MacLaine plays his love interest, and her performance is equally deft in her contrast of harsh and soft textures.
The Apartment is definitely a comedy, but there is also something dark about the film. Billy Wilder also wrote and directed The Lost Weekend, a winner from the mid-1940’s about the gruelling effects of alcoholism. I think that there’s also something to be read into The Apartment being the first winner to be set in America for some years. Wilder seems to be able to tap into the darker side of his contemporary America. To be writing about extreme alcoholism and adultery he must have seen these things and know what they can do to people. Wilder is not just a gifted screen writer, he is brave and courageous for putting on screen things which truly reflect what happens in the world.
It’s lovely to watch a film that brings things back from the out of control epics like Ben-Hur, Bridge on the River Kwai and Around The World In Eighty Days. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all of the above, but it feels good to be brought back down to earth with a regular guy with much more regular, if salacious, troubles.