Saturday, June 25, 2011

"The Apartment" belongs in the high-rent district

Cover of "The Apartment (Collector's Edit...Cover of The Apartment (Collector's Edition)Number 80 on AFI's top 100 list is The Apartment (1960). I think it should be higher. It's a great romantic comedy in the old school tradition (i.e. no gratuitous nudity or language - in fact none at all). It features great writing (Academy Award for Best Screenplay) and acting, with excellent performances by Jack Lemmon and a young Shirley MacLaine.

For me, McLaine is the revelation here. I had never seen any of her earlier films and was only familiar with her later work and her zany reincarnation beliefs. As the crux of the love triangle with C.C. Baxter (Lemmon) and Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), MacLaine's Fran plays an elevator operator in a large insurance firm. She trades quips with the horny male workers and fends off the gropes of older management types. She balances a self-confident exterior with an inner vulnerability which makes the character very interesting.

Baxter moons over her, but he has a problem - he loans out his nearby apartment to the management at his company for illicit trysts in order to advance up the corporate ladder. He spends so much time juggling the "schedule" for his apartment that he can't work up the nerve to tell Fran how he really feels. The big boss (MacMurray) finds out about the apartment and offers Baxter a promotion for exclusive access. Guess who he wants to bring there?

With the current nostalgia for the early 60's (see Mad Men), I'm surprised there hasn't been a remake of this film. The writing would stand out in today's rom-com fluff. Steve Carrell would do the Baxter role justice, and Alec Baldwin would devour the Sheldrake role.

As one of the few comedies to win Best Picture (1961), The Apartment should upgraded to a higher rent district by the AFI.

Next up on the list, we continue with the Billy Wilder-Fred MacMurray duo and investigate Double Indemnity (1944).

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