Top 100 Movie Review: #93 – The Apartment (1960)

More Drama Than Comedy

While The Apartment gets pegged as a comedy, its premise is too dated to get the same laughs today but thankfully holds its own with sentimental moments. 

Jack Lemon and Shirley McClain.

American Film Institutes Ranking: #93
Academy Awards: Nominated for 10 winning five, including Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay
My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

Sick and stuck visiting family, I went to the on demand section of their cable provider looking for something to watch. Not wanting to get sucked into the four hour “Gone with the Wind (though I succumbed to that on day three of the flu), I decided on “The Apartment”; heralded as a classic comedy, it would fit nicely with my febril mood.

I ended up not finishing it. Too sick to continue and too confused by the lack of laughs, I took NyQuil and went for a deep sleep. Unfortunately when I came to, the on demand selections had reset. I didn’t finish watching until many weeks later, renting the DVD from the library.

I wanted to get it over with so I could write my review and move on, but something happened — I really enjoyed the last half of the film. All the problems that I was going to use to bury this film evaporated into thin air as the movie continued.

[spoilers/story.] C.C. “Bud” Baxter (Jack Lemon) is just another cog in the big machine of a national insurance corporation. To try and make headway towards career advancement, he rents out his apartment to executives at his company to use for their extra-martial affairs.  They take advantage of the amenities, showing no regard for the apartment or for inconveniencing Baxter with late night arrangements or overstaying their allotted time.

Baxter runs into Fran Kubelik (Shirley McClain)m an elevator operator at work, and asks her out on date. She accepts, but eventually stands him up, going instead with one of the executives, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), to Baxter’s apartment.

Baxter on the right with all the unfaithful executives on the left.

The “comedy” aspect of this movie is supposed to come form the ridiculous set up. In one scene, Baxter gets a cold and needs the apartment to himself for the evening. He dials up the executive that has it booked for the night and tries to move him into a new slot. In doing so, he sets off a chain reaction, having to call all the executives and shuffle them around. While the lecherous old men can be entertaining, most of it feels uncomfortable.

That’s because Baxter’s character is such a door matt. He lets them do whatever they want, showing absolutely no back bone in hopes to ingratiate himself to a higher position. So not only is the character’s personality lousy, his motives are also self-centered making him extremely hard to like. The same could be said for Fran Kubelik. Her relationship with Fred MacMurray’s character is almost unbelievable as there is no on screen chemistry between the two. Her continued return to him after his disappointments is also a point of frustration.

Then comes the surreal moment for something booked as a comedy: the suicide attempt.

Fran meets Sheldrake at Baxter’s apartment for a rendezvous on Christmas Eve. Fran, seeing that Sheldrake was full of lies, confronts him about what he plans to do and whether he is going to leave his wife. Sheldrake says that isn’t possible, gives her a $100 dollar bill as a Christmas gift, and leaves. Fran goes through the apartment finding sleeping pills, intentionally overdoses, and leaves the $100 dollars in an envelope addressed to Sheldrake. Baxter comes home to discover an unconscious Fran and gets the doctor next door to help him as he is afraid she might die. Pretty scary moment for a comedy.


Afterwards, everything clicks for this movie. The next few days are allowed for Fran to recover, and we start to see the characters bloom. Baxter no longer comes across as the door matt, but a goofy guy with quick wit. Fran’s quirky personality gets put on full display and the interactions between the two are memorable for not only the budding of their relationship but how riveting it is. This is classic hollywood stuff — two young people falling in love!

The ending of the movie made my insides swell, with Fran running up the steps to the apartment calling Baxter’s name to only hear a loud pop go off. Baxter’s own suicide attempt had been described in an earlier scene, and his possession of a gun had been shown moments before. She runs to the door banging, screaming his name, to only have Baxter come out with a recently uncorked champagne bottle wondering what all the fuss is about. They sit down to play card and he tells her “I absolutely adore you.” 

I wouldn’t call this a comedy, but more of a drama with some humor. Regardless, the back end of this movie is pure magic. It’s just a shame it takes a while to get there.

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