BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #60: The Apartment, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list has a good number of films I hadn’t seen before so it is a good source for my challenge.
This was my second time watching The Apartment, and I was very happy to revisit it. The first time I watched it, I was a little surprised by how serious it was – for some reason I had it in my mind that it was more of a laugh-out-loud comedy than it actually is. This time around, I was able to appreciate it for the film it is not the film I expected it to be. I’m a big Billy Wilder fan and any time I get to watch one of his films, I am struck by how strong a storyteller he was as well as what impressive performances he is able to get out of his actors. I don’t know anything about him as a person, but he was able to tackle many different genres and types of stories with sophistication and style.
The two lead performances by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are what make this film so watchable. MacLaine is bubbly, adorable-but-fragile Fran Kubelik. Lemmon is sad, but funny as the pushover low-ranking employee who is being used by the higher-ups for their own gain. Baxter is so sweet as he tries to protect Fran from her darker tendencies, like hiding his razor blades and keeping her under his careful watch. The two of them had an easy chemistry that worked as coworkers, friends, and finally romantic partners. Their humor and heartbreak melded into a charming relationship that you easily route for throughout the film.
One element of the film that I enjoyed were the various opinions people had of Baxter. His neighbors thought he was philandering playboy, his employers thought he was a pushover, and Fran sees him as a nice guy. Dr. Dreyfuss and his wife have some of the best interactions with Baxter. The doctor helps him with Fran when she overdoses and his wife is kind enough to cook for her, but they both think Baxter is the root cause of her overdose.
I liked that the film didn’t paint Fran as a frantic, over-emotional woman even though the film was made in 1960. She certainly made a mistake and probably didn’t really want to die but she was heartbroken and offended by her boyfriend basically equivocating her to a prostitute by giving her a hundred dollar bill as a Christmas gift. She also has enough agency that she doesn’t fall instantly in love with Baxter even though he “saves her”. She is a real enough character that she falls back in with Sheldrake and leaves Baxter to get back to his life. I appreciate that Wilder often wrote women as three-dimensional characters.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
The Apartment ranking: Battleship