• Apartment, The

    Released by: Arrow Films
    Release date: December 19, 2017
    Directed by: Billy Wilder
    Cast: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis, Hope Holiday, Joan Shawlee, Naomi Stevens, Johnny Seven, Joyce Jameson
    Year: 1960

    The Movie:

    C.C. “Bud” Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is something of a stooge at work, where he’s constantly being promised a promotion if he allows his superiors to use his apartment to rendezvous with their mistresses. The ploy works, but only after head man Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurry) requests use of the apartment for his own nefarious purposes. What Bud doesn’t initially know is that Sheldrake is romancing the elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine); he has even misled her into believing that he’s going to leave his wife for her. Bud, too, is in love with Fran, though she’s unaware of his feelings. During a drunken Christmas party, Sheldrake’s secretary, Miss Olsen (Edie Adams), reveals to Fran that she isn’t the only fling Sheldrake has ever had. Fran confronts him, but he insists he loves her regardless of his past affairs, though he leaves her immediately thereafter to spend the holiday with his wife and children.

    When Bud discovers whom Sheldrake is bedding, he’s heartbroken. He goes to a local bar and gets drunk, and there allows himself to get picked up by a young flirt (Hope Holiday). Back at his apartment, however, he discovers that Fran has tried to kill herself. Hoping to avoid a scandal, he asks a neighbor who also happens to be a doctor (Jack Kruschen) to prevent Fran from dying. As Fran recuperates, Bud tries to end her depression. Meanwhile, Sheldrake fires Miss Olsen; she gets back at him by revealing his torrid affairs to his wife, who kicks him out. Sheldrake takes this as a sign that he can further mislead Fran, but things only get more complicated from there.

    Born into a Jewish family in Poland in 1906, Samuel “Billy” Wilder rejected membership in the family business (a cake shop in Sucha) for an education in Vienna and travel abroad. After dipping his toes into journalism, he moved to Berlin, where he became involved in the film industry as a writer. But with Hitler’s rise to power in the late 1920s, he fled to Paris, where he made his directorial debut, and then to the United States. In Hollywood, Wilder continued to write film scripts. It took him a few years to find major success, but after co-writing chores on the Greta Garbo hit Ninotchka (1939), and with an Oscar nomination for it under his belt, his future in Hollywood was sealed. He had a number of hits, as well as jumped to direction with The Major and the Minor (1942), starring Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland. But it was the 1944 film noir Double Indemnity that made him a star in his own right. The film, which dealt with a femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck) leading an insurance salesman (Fred MacMurray) to murder, proved a smash hit with both critics and audiences alike. Wilder followed it up with a long string of classics, including A Foreign Affair and A Song Is Born (both 1948), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), Sabrina (1954), The Seven Year Itch (1955), The Spirit of St. Louis, Love in the Afternoon, and A Witness for the Prosecution (all 1957), and one of the biggest hits of his career, Some Like It Hot (1959).

    Some Like It Hot starred Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon in a daring tale of gender deceptions. Out of that film arose a relationship between Lemmon and Wilder that would last their lifetimes. Wilder saw in Lemmon an everyman to whom both male and female viewers could relate. Instead of rugged good looks and a classically chiseled face and physique, Lemmon was a normal guy, someone you might recognize as a neighbor or a coworker. Thus, when Wilder cast his next movie, he knew exactly who he wanted to play office drone Bud Baxter; it was a part tailor made for Lemmon, so there’s little doubt as to why Lemmon excelled in the part. Clearly, Baxter was never going to be Fran’s first choice, unlike MacMurray’s Sheldrake, with his old-school Hollywood good looks and sneering charm. And Lemmon played Baxter to a T.

    As with Some Like It Hot, The Apartment was a shocking picture in its day, but also a massively successful one. The idea of an apartment with a revolving door for adulterers and the women they string along was heady stuff even as the Code was finding itself outdated, thanks to evolving mores and an increasing number of filmmakers willing to push the envelope. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won five. It assured Wilder another two decades of filmmaking, despite the fact that his films became increasingly difficult to sell to modern audiences, as well as drove up the star power of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine (who continued to push the envelope herself, starring in the 1961 film adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour—about a rumor of a lesbian affair that ruins the lives of two teachers—the very next year).

    The Apartment’s success and ongoing acclaim is much deserved. With spot-on performances from everyone involved, a smart and daring script, and subtly inventive direction, it can lay claim to being a watershed moment, a film that helped turned the tide and roll back censorial rules about what stories Hollywood was allowed to tell.


    If the visual quality of the BD of Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is the antithesis of what the format should look like, the same director’s The Apartment is proof positive of the format’s virtues. To say that the film is sharp just might be an understatement. Arrow has released a limited special edition of the film in 1080p hi-def with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in its original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Running a little over two hours, the film has a high bitrate and is spread across a BD50, taking up most of the disc’s available space. It’s doubtful that Joseph LaShelle’s crisp black-and-white cinematography (which was nominated for an Academy Award but failed to win) has ever looked better than it does here, not even on the big screen. Detail is so sharp that it’s almost indescribable. Check out, for example, the scene in which Sheldrake celebrates Christmas with his family. Whether it’s Sheldrake’s robe, the Christmas tree’s tinsel and ornaments, or the wallpaper that adorns the ornate home, detail is so vivid that it virtually pops out of the frame. Some scenes, such as when Baxter is forced to sit on a park bench while his apartment is being used, are almost three-dimensional. The leaves floating past the camera at various depths, the park bench moving off into the background, and the glistening trees wet from rain combine to establish an image of unprecedented profundity, one that reflects the conflicted emotional states of the film’s leads. Black levels are exactly as they should be; there is absolutely no crush, and noise is nonexistent. Many black-and-white films in the format frequently suffer from excessive grain or blown-out whites. Neither is the case here. A very thin layer of grain underlies the picture, but never does it overtake or obliterate it.

    There’s good reason for this. Arrow has gone back to the film’s original camera negative to scan the elements at 4K resolution. Dirt and debris have been painstakingly removed, and serious damage has been repaired to the point that viewers will never know it existed in the first place. Density fluctuation has also been corrected, as has chemical staining in various places. The result is a film so clean and gorgeous that, if it weren’t for the look of the photography, it would appear as if it had been shot yesterday instead of almost 60 years ago. For anyone who owned the old MGM DVD—or even the later Blu-ray release—make no mistake about it: Arrow’s release is the way to go, one so superior that it’s unlikely to be bested for many years to come (short of Arrow releasing an actual 4K version). Many of the repaired defects remained in the MGM BD but are gone here, and the MGM release was darker and less stable than Arrow’s, though it was certainly sharp regardless.

    The goodness doesn’t end with the film’s visuals. Arrow offers the film’s original soundtrack in two separate tracks: For discerning viewers, there’s an LPCM mono track; for viewers who prefer their films in surround, there’s a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. This reviewer prefers the flatter mono track, though there’s certainly nothing wrong with the lossless 5.1. Either way, the underlying score is as clean as a whistle, while dialogue is clear and emphatic. There are no issues with hiss or fade or dropout or echo… or any other problem some older soundtracks continue to have. In short, the tracks are aural perfection. Arrow has also provided subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired, as well as an audio commentary from film historian Bruce Block, who jumps right into the film’s production history. There are a few empty patches during which the film’s sound is raised to fill the void. Overall, however, Block doesn’t fall prey to descriptions of the action for any reason other than to segue into a discussion of how it was shot and/or why. He covers the various actors, including those in minor roles, as well as many of the crew, as well as everything from missing scenes to inconsistencies between frames, often citing how script details differ from the final product. The commentary is fascinating and, if viewed by someone who has already seen the film and enjoyed it, greatly rewarding.

    Extras are a mix of those ported over from previous releases (including the above-mentioned commentary), alongside new ones prepared specifically for this release.

    “The Key To The Apartment” is a “new appreciation of The Apartment by film historian Philip Kemp, recorded exclusively for Arrow in 2017.” It runs just a little over 10 minutes and focuses on the film’s blackly comic conventions, which challenge Western capitalism. Kemp also provides commentary for two specific scenes that total slightly less than nine minutes. The first is the Christmas Eve sequence, the second is of Fran and Sheldrake having it out in a bar/restaurant.

    “The Flawed Couple” is a new video essay from filmmaker David Cairns (Let Us Prey, 2014). According to the disc’s on-screen menu, it “explores the many collaborations between Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon.” This isn’t exactly true; while it does touch on other collaborations between Wilder and Lemmon, it focuses almost entirely on The Apartment. The featurette lasts for approximately 20 minutes and works as a dissection of the film’s story and its impact on Wilder’s career. During the last five minutes of the program, Cairns does touch briefly on The Fortune Cookie (1966), Avanti! (1972), and The Front Page (1974). Irma La Douce (1963), on the other hand, is touched on throughout. It’s an excellent essay, definitely worth one’s rapt attention.

    “A Letter to Castro” is an interview with actress Hope Holiday and refers to a line she speaks in the film. Shot for Arrow in 2017, it runs approximately 13 minutes and includes snippets from the film along with behind-the-scenes stills interspersed throughout. She discusses how she left Hollywood because she hated it, then returned to find herself being offered a role in The Apartment. She also offers a couple of cute anecdotes about the film and her time on the set.

    “An Informal Conversation with Billy Wilder” is “an archival interview from the Writers Guild Foundation’s Oral Histories series” and runs a little over 23 minutes. According to an opening text card, the program “The Writer Speaks” (of which this was a part) included over 50 video interviews with various film and television writers. These focused not only on the craft of screenwriting but also shared stories about the artists’ lives and careers. The opening is narrated by Jack Lemmon and features a list of the films written or co-written by Wilder. Being an older recording, the interview was shot on low-grade video, and there’s a constant hum to the sound. Between that and Wilder’s often-thick accent, he can be difficult to make out at times. The interview is a bit dry, though Wilder enthusiasts will want to check it out for obvious reasons. It’s also broken down into parts, with each part given a title card (such as “Casting”) to summarize the subject matter.

    A restoration show reel offers comparisons between MGM’s previous Blu-ray restoration and Arrow’s more current one, revealing just how much damage was removed from various scenes. While the previous version was sharp nonetheless, the new version is so much better. The comparison runs a little over two minutes and will be most valuable to people who have upgraded from MGM’s release.

    The original U.S. theatrical trailer (2:19) is included, as are a couple of archival features. The first is “Inside the Apartment,” a half-hour making-of featurette. Interview subjects include author Kevin Lally (Wilder Times); actress Shirley MacLaine; the co-host of Turner’s “The Essentials,” Molly Haskell; former Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne; and producer Walter Mirisch, among many others. The documentary traces the film’s history from inception to release, and the number of contributors gives it a depth that few documentaries of this length have. The second feature is “Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon,” which runs just shy of 13 minutes and focuses, as you might suspect, on actor Jack Lemmon. It includes some of the same interview subjects as “Inside the Apartment” and was clearly filmed at the same time. These include Jack’s son Chris, an actor in his own right, and covers Jack’s career from his stint in the military, to his jump to the stage, to his success at the cinema. It places special importance and emphasis on his relationship and collaborations with Billy Wilder.

    There is also an accompanying book—which contains essays from such esteemed film historians as Neil Sinyard, Heather Hyche, Kat Ellinger, and Travis Crawford---but it was not provided to Rock! Shock! Pop! for review.

    Arrow’s special edition is limited to 3,000 units.

    The Final Word:

    The Apartment is remembered fondly for a reason: It’s a classic in every sense of the word, with a daring screenplay, great direction, and terrific performances. While MGM’s previous Blu-ray release was certainly a step in the right direction in presenting the film the way it should be seen, Arrow’s limited special edition finally delivers the perfect package for fans. Not only does the film look and sound better than ever, but it also comes with a striking number of great extras.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I LOVE this film. Great review, Chris.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      T'ank you, Mark.