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The Apartment: Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

The Apartment (1960) movie poster The Apartment

Theatrical Release: June 15, 1960 / Running Time: 125 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Billy Wilder / Writers: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond

Cast: Jack Lemmon (C.C. "Bud" Baxter), Shirley MacLaine (Fran Kubelik), Fred MacMurray (Jeff D. Sheldrake), Ray Walston (Joe R. Dobisch), Jack Kruschen (Dr. Dreyfuss), David Lewis (Al Kirkeby), Hope Holiday (Mrs. Margie MacDougall), Joan Shawlee (Sylvia), Naomi Stevens (Mrs. Mildred Dreyfuss), Johnny Seven (Karl Matuschka), Joyce Jameson (The Blonde), Willard Waterman (Mr. Vanderhoff), David White (Mr. M.L. Eichelberger), Edie Adams (Miss Olsen)

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The Artist is poised to become the first black and white winner of the Best Picture Oscar since Schindler's List. Before that, we must go all the way back to 1960's The Apartment for a colorless champion. Like many winners, The Apartment doesn't fit the model that comes to mind with the words "Best Picture."
It's no sprawling epic set in the past dramatizing an important person's life or tackling an important social issue. It was simply the latest movie in the productive and prolific career of Billy Wilder.

Born in Austria-Hungary, Wilder began writing movies in his early twenties in late 1920s Germany. In 1933, having already racked up more than twenty European film credits, he came to America and continued his career without missing a beat. By the end of the 1930s, Wilder was contributing to movies of value, such as Greta Garbo's Ninotchka and the screwball romance Midnight. In the early 1940s, Wilder transitioned from writer to writer/director and officially, he never really looked back. Thus began the most significant and celebrated phase of Wilder's career, responsible for such works as the classic 1944 noir Double Indemnity, 1945 Best Picture winner Lost Weekend, and 1950's Sunset Boulevard.

After Sunset, Wilder typically wore three hats on his films: writer, director, and producer, sharing credit on only the first of those three major duties. This highly creative period found Wilder working in a variety of genres: war (Stalag 17), romance (Sabrina), comedy (Some Like It Hot). No matter the makings, Wilder's films typically yielded commercial success and some Academy Award recognition. In the latter department, The Apartment would top his every prior creation, as well as almost every film. It was nominated for ten Oscars and won five: Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Editing, and Black & White Art Direction.

At work, C.C. "Bud" Baxter (Jack Lemmon) has his hands full, not with insurance but with scheduling executives into his apartment for trysts.

The Apartment tells the story of a contemporary businessman. C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), more commonly called "Bud" or "Buddy Boy", is one of 31,259 employees of New York City insurance company Consolidated Life. He works at one of countless desks on the 19th floor, but from what we can see, he doesn't do much working, at least not on insurance. Bud has his hands full overseeing the schedule for his spacious apartment on West 67th Street. The key to this bachelor pad often changes hands, with the higher-ups of Consolidated Life using it to "entertain" women. They're grateful and promise to put in a good word for Bud, but they're also ready to consign him to waiting out in the cold rain while they conduct their extramarital flings inside his home.

Bud's accommodating nature finally gets rewarded when he is called into the office of personnel director Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), promoted to Second Administrative Executive and given his own office up on the 27th floor. The promotion finds Bud withholding the key from his recommenders, but there is one person he cannot say no to: Sheldrake, the one powerful employee everyone knows and fears. Sheldrake gets his own personal key to Bud's home and plans to make regular use of it with the latest in his long line of mistresses.

Little does Bud know that the "lucky" lady is none other than Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), the good-natured elevator operator for whom he himself holds feelings. The reality of that situation sinks in at a depressing Christmas work party, the aftermath of which finds Fran fighting for her life in Bud's apartment.

Fred MacMurray, ordinary the decent, likeable hero, unleashed a dark side for Billy Wilder, this time as adulterous personnel director Jeff Sheldrake. Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) spends Christmas in the bed and bathrobe of C.C. Baxter.

The Apartment depicts a bygone era, the very one whose sexist, male-dominated workplace "Mad Men" romanticizes and questions. And yet, Wilder's film is remarkably not dated at all, with its focus on aspects of storytelling that never fall out of fashion: compelling characters, human emotions, and complicated situations.
It is a bit surprising that the film could hold up a mirror to the relaxed morals and since uncondonable double standards of rich, unfaithful businessmen and get such a favorable response. It must help that Wilder's movie is not strongly condemnatory or heavy-handed in any way. Still, it is very much a story that is specific to its time and such works often need some distance to fully appreciate.

It is incredibly easy to appreciate and enjoy nowadays, particularly since its frank human study skews a lot closer to modern cinema than the bold, showy spectacle often chosen back then as the standard of excellence. Many may long for the escapism of roadshow musicals typically adapted from Broadway. As fun and charming as they can be, most of them barely touch upon the human condition, favoring instead storybook romance and ambitious choreography. The Apartment really digs its feet into what it means to be human and examines how sympathy can stand in the way of success. It's a film both funny and poignant, with those two different qualities simultaneously present almost throughout. It might not be Wilder's best film (many would argue that Sunset Boulevard has more dramatic resonance), but it perhaps best embodies what it is about Wilder's films that makes them so appealing and beloved all these years later.

The Apartment is an interesting crossroads for its three leads. Fred MacMurray was reteaming with Wilder, having first collaborated with him on Double Indemnity. After becoming one of Hollywood's highest-paid actors in light comedies, musicals and melodramas, 51-year-old MacMurray's career was on the wane. The antagonist role of Sheldrake would be the dark (yet critically bright) outlier in his career rebirth as a leading man of family films. MacMurray had just appeared in the hit The Shaggy Dog and would follow that up with six other Disney comedies over the next fourteen years. At the same time, MacMurray starred in the sitcom "My Three Sons", whose 12-season, 380-episode run outnumbers the vast majority of television programming.

On the other hand, MacLaine and Lemmon were on the rise. MacLaine had made her film debut at age 20 in Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 black comedy The Trouble With Harry and had since won acclaim in a number of films. Lemmon had won the Supporting Actor Oscar for 1955's Mister Roberts and more recently starred in Wilder's crowd-pleasing Some Like It Hot. He and the director would collaborate on a total of seven films, most of them comedies.

Going up! Bud (Jack Lemmon) rides the elevator operated by Fran (Shirley MacLaine) up to a promotion on the 27th floor.

I have not seen many of the Wilder-Lemmon pictures, but The Apartment reminds me of a different Lemmon comedy, the 1968 classic The Odd Couple. It has a number of things in common with that Neil Simon play adaptation, including: being set primarily in a spacious New York City bachelor pad, employing the wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio, having multiple scenes of playing cards, a scene in which a suicide attempt is feared, sinus concerns, memorable moments involving pasta (here, Lemmon drains spaghetti on a tennis racket; there, Lemmon is amused when roommate Walter Matthau mistakes linguini for spaghetti), and a love interest played for laughs (the Pigeon sisters in the Odd Couple and the drunken wife of a Cuban prisoner here). The other thing linking the two is that they are both among the best films the 1960s gave us.

The Apartment's supporting cast includes two individuals of special note. Ray Walston, soon to star as Uncle Martin on "My Favorite Martian" and perhaps best remembered as Fast Times at Ridgemont High history teacher Mr. Hand, plays one of the executives who lays claim to Bud's key. Meanwhile, Jack Kruschen plays Bud's next-door neighbor Dr. Dreyfuss, who is a big believer in the medical value of slapping one's face. An actor with over 200 acting credits to his name, Kruschen can only be identified to me as Uncle Jesse's grandfather "Papouli" on two episodes of "Full House."

On the day that this year's Oscar nominations were announced, The Apartment finally made its Blu-ray debut, several months after it had been scheduled and delayed in a case that recycles the cover art of its 2008 DVD rerelease complete with a "Collector's Edition" moniker.

The Apartment Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: January 24, 2012
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Still available as Collector's Edition DVD ($14.98 SRP; February 5, 2008)
Previously released on DVD (June 19, 2001)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Picture quality on The Apartment's Blu-ray is good, but not quite great. The 2.35:1 transfer is lacking in sharpness, but the element largely remains clean and retains an appropriate amount of fine grain. The deep-focus, wide-angle visuals, often captured with long mobile shots are highly appealing and one wishes they looked a tad bit better, but this no doubt is the film's best home video presentation to date.

To the dismay of purists, the only English soundtrack is a 5.1 DTS-HD master audio remix. Some of the dialogue sounds a bit dated. It getting mixed into different channels creates directionality that clearly wasn't part of the original exhibitions, but it is tastefully and fittingly handled. As with the picture, there's room for improvement. This won't be cited as the best classic film restoration you've seen, but the results are quite satisfying all the same.

Paul Diamond, son of screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond, is one of many who take us "Inside 'The Apartment.'" Chris Lemmon talks about his father in "Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon." It's a bit odd to advertise action every night, but The Apartment's trailer is entertaining enough to forgive.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Apartment is joined by the same four bonus features of its Collector's Edition DVD.

First up is an audio commentary by film historian Bruce Block. Block shares much of interest. He dispels a myth about the famous forced perspective set, talks about cast members, discusses a deleted scene, and compares what's in the script to what was developed later.

He does a lot of analyzing of sequences and discussing their significance. At some points, especially late in the picture, that gives this the feel of a descriptive track for the visually impaired. But most of the time, Block offers a steady flow of good notes worth hearing.

Video extras are presented in 16:9 widescreen and are in standard definition unless otherwise noted.

"Inside The Apartment" (29:36) is a fine general retrospective that interviews Shirley MacLaine; supporting players Johnny Seven, Hope Holiday and Edie Adams; film authors and historians (including TCM's Robert Osborne), and the sons of Jack Lemmon and Wilder's co-writer I.A.L. Diamond. This begins with the movie's inspirations (Brief Encounter and a real Hollywood scandal) and timing (when censorship lightened up for the adultery plot to pass). It then proceeds to discuss the film's achievements, casting, flexible production, and knockout closing line. It is a great overview, which does repeat some of the same ground as Block's commentary.

"Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon" (12:47) celebrates the actor, with his son's observations leading the way. Naturally, the featurette has something of a focus on his Wilder films.

Finally, we get The Apartment's original theatrical trailer (2:19, HD), which is something of a fun short film on "how to make a very special kind of motion picture."

The disc oddly opens with a trailer for the Dances with Wolves 20th Anniversary Blu-ray, released a year earlier.

The Apartment has received less than the usual effort from MGM and Fox. The disc contains no standard menu and does not support resuming playback or adding bookmarks. The movie simply repeats ad infinitum, unless you opt to stop or pause it or choose something from the pop-up menu. There is neither slipcover around nor insert within the eco-friendly blue keepcase.

"Shut up and deal," says Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) to Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon) in the closing line of "The Apartment"

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Apartment is a great film, one of the best of its time. It stands to be discovered or frequently revisited. MGM's Blu-ray doesn't go above and beyond expectations, but the feature presentation and handful of quality extras are more than enough to elicit a strong recommendation for such a good movie.

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Related Reviews:
New to Blu-ray: Lady and the Tramp Love Story Rebecca Annie Hall Wings
Best Picture Oscar Winners: The Sound of Music Platoon Forrest Gump No Country for Old Men The King's Speech
Fred MacMurray: The Shaggy Dog The Absent-Minded Professor Bon Voyage! Follow Me, Boys! The Happiest Millionaire
Jack Lemmon: The Odd Couple The Murder of Mary Phagan | Shirley MacLaine: Carolina | Ray Walston: Popeye
1960s Best Picture Nominees: The Hustler A Thousand Clowns America America Mary Poppins Doctor Zhivago
1960s Movies: Hand in Hand The Parent Trap Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 101 Dalmatians The Jungle Book
Jack "Papouli" Kruschen: Full House: The Complete Seventh Season

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Reviewed February 13, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1960 United Artists and The Mirisch Company, 2008-2012 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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