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ISSUE 119 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/17/2006

Unearth a gem in 'The Apartment'

By John Douglass
Variety Editor

Friday, March 17, 2006

This weekend the Matthew McConahay/Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy “Failure to Launch” topped the domestic box office and proved once again that romantic comedies are as big as ever. Too bad they are not any good.

The romantic comedy is a genre historically reviled by critics while simultaneously embraced by viewers. The last movie that could accurately be described as a romantic comedy to win an Academy Award for Best Picture was Woody Allen's “Annie Hall,” and that was in 1977. It seems that it hasn’t been since “When Harry Met Sally” in 1989 that a romantic comedy has really captured the hearts of audiences and critics alike.

Some of the genre's best entries have almost been forgotten. Billy Wilder's “The Apartment” (1960) is one such film. “The Apartment” is a perfect romantic comedy, and in my opinion, one of the best the now-somewhat-hackneyed genre has ever had to offer.

The story follows C.C. Baxter, played to bumbling, nervous and completely endearing perfection by Jack Lemmon. Baxter is a classic working stiff who shows up to his cubicle, one in a seemingly never-ending sea of identical square “offices,” religiously each day. If you thought Michael Bolton in “Office Space” had it bad, he has nothing on C.C. Baxter.

Baxter is also a genuinely nice guy. He is a bit of a pushover and has been slowly rising in the office ranks due to his willingness to “loan” the use of his apartment to his superiors as a sort of love-nest for their extra-marital affairs. He is in this situation partly due to his own ambition, but owes just as much to simply not being able to say “no.”

A young Shirley MacLaine (who had two lackluster entries into the “rom-com” genre of her own this past year) plays Fran Kubelik, the elevator operator in Baxter's office building whom he has been harboring feelings for from afar. The action heats up when Baxter allows Mr. Sheldrake, one of his bosses, the use of his apartment without knowing that the affair he is conducting is with Miss Kubelik.

Fred MacMurray, (you may know him from such Disney family films as “The Shaggy Dog” or noir fare like “Double Indemnity”) plays Mr. Sheldrake with an understated, smarmy perfection. He is a man utterly capable of convincing women that he is just about to leave his wife but also able to leave them at the first sign of any kind of trouble.

When Sheldrake and Kubelik's affair takes a negative turn, Baxter returns home to find Kubelik passed out in his bed, having attempted suicide by overdosing on pills.

The rest of the film is full of the resulting interactions between the characters and is full to the brim with witty, hilarious dialogue. Billy Wilder is one of America's greatest masters of the screen, both as a director and a writer and all of his talents are at work in “The Apartment.” All of the characters speak in a roundabout business doublespeak fashion that is utterly believable and while easily reviled in Sheldrake's character, it is equally as endearing in Baxter's.

When “The Apartment” was released, it won five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Director, Art Direction and Editing. The film is completely deserving. The acting is phenomenal as well, garnering three Oscar nominations, although no wins. It is a gorgeous movie, filmed in miraculous black and white, perfectly capturing the drab nature of the character's lives.

All in all, with today's world full of drivel up the “Failure to Launch” alley, do yourself a favor and dig up a copy of “The Apartment.” You will not regret it.

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