Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Arrow's Blu-ray debut of Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT proves a multi-faceted delight

TrustMovies had not seen THE APARTMENT -- the multi-Oscar-winning and now classic Billy Wilder movie -- since 1960, the year of its initial release. He was 19 at the time and far too untutored in life to begin to appreciate the film's unusual mix of compassion and cynicism that marks it, even today (hell, especially today), as something rather special. To say that this movie "holds up" is putting it far too mildly. In our current times of me2 and the off-the-charts political correctness that makes an intelligent person want to stop the world and get off, the film is like a slap in the face that wakes you and sets you back on course.

That said, its cynicism -- about male prerogative and the role of women in the workplace back in mid 20th Century America -- still startles.

Mr. Wilder (shown at left), who directed and co-wrote the film with his long-time collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond, pulls no punches in his depiction of the ways in which the male corporate executive treats the female as chattel/accessory -- and worse, how totally accepted all this is by both sexes.

It's the latter, however, that will probably raise viewers' pulses and redden their faces. Come on now, was it ever really like this? Yes, dears, it was.
And kind of still is. For the most wealthy and powerful.

That Wilder was able to make to make both a comedy and a love story from material that ought to creep us out was just part of his skill set. His and Diamond's attention to detail and just the right amount of repetition (to remind us but not club us senseless) plus their ability to set up situations, surprises, jokes and emotions in a manner in which they eventually coalesce and pay huge dividends down the road is, I think, unequalled in American movie history.

The film stars two of the most talented and popular actors of the day -- Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine (above, right and left, respectively) along with an impressive third wheel, Fred MacMurray (below left), playing against his usual happy-family-man type (though some moviegoers will recall his work in Wilder's Double Indemnity).

The tale tells of a corporate schlub (Lemmon) who is good enough at his accounting work but is "getting ahead" by allowing his married corporate bosses to use his apartment as a sex pad for their assignations with their mistresses. Maclaine plays one of the elevator operators in the corporate building who seems to have managed to keep herself aloof from these predatory males.

Much of the comedy arises from the bone-deep hypocrisy and denial of the males, as well as from the enormously adept stars, who make almost everything we see and hear both comic and sad. Even the film's "happy ending," while delicious enough, comes slightly curdled if you allow yourself to consider the character of its protagonists.

He is all too willing to bow to power for a little recognition, while she's ready to use suicide as a way out of a failed romance. Sure, maybe they've changed a bit along the way, and we do get the clinch and the kiss at the finale. But tomorrow? Better not think about that. Yet Wilder has built all of this right in.

The filmmaker is both compassionate enough to see these folk as fallible humans and cynical enough to know how little real long-term change is likely to happen.

Filmed in widescreen black-and-white, the movie's a pleasure to view and hear in this new 4K restoration from the original camera negative, with original uncompressed PCM mono audio. As usual with Arrow Video, the Special Features are many and wonderful. Especially good is The Key to The Apartment, a new appreciation of the movie by film historian Philip Kemp.

From Arrow Academy (released here in the USA by MVD Entertainment Group) and running exactly two hours, the new Blu-ray disc is available now -- for purchase and (I would hope somewhere) for rental.

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