Friday, 7 August 2009

Might as well go to mine. Everybody else does.

No 12 - The Apartment
Director - Billy Wilder

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax and why it has been so bloody long since a blog on this site". I apologise. I truly truly do.
My actual life has been a massive interruption to my cinematic lazings. However I have moved house and am ready to continue watching films in shiny new Putney surroundings.

The Apartment is the highest ranking comedy on the top 500 (if we don't count Singin' in the Rain) and is a good 15 places above Some Like it Hot - a film I had often assumed was the greatest comedy of all time - so I was keen to check it out. It also has the excellent comedy stock of both Mr Billy Wilder and Mr Jack Lemmon.
I was expecting something with the same crystal sharp delivery and pitch perfect wit of Some Like it Hot. I was wrong. This is a very different type of comedy.

It is also a comedy of two halves, as the film slowly turns into a beautiful rom-com with some really tragic moments. I'm saving my review of The Royal Tenembauns for a day where I feel I can write it in an unbiased way - however, I'm a big big fan of the tragi-comic and i loved this film.

The film follows C.C.Baxter who has a non-descript job in an insurance company. He also hires out his apartment as a venue for management to have their illicit affairs. By schmoozing this small group of executives, Baxter manages to work his way up the company with startling speed. Ending up the assistant director of the entire firm. However, it is here that the first of the film's morals appear.
The better Baxter is doing at work, the worse his social life and his free time. This is a film which shows the difficulties of having a decent work/life balance. Although - I think that this is not helped by the fact that Baxter is a bit of a wet blanket, bending over backwards to accommodate the executives to the detriment of his own health, happiness and sanity.

Where the film really kicks off is with the introduction of Fran Kubelik, played by the beautiful Shirley MacLaine. Her character is one of the lift operators for the firm and she is a feisty, out going and just wonderful person. It is clear why Baxter is in love with her. Every moment she spends on screen illuminates the film and makes it crackle with energy. The viewer (or at least me) falls for her instantly... making Baxter's plight all the more personal.

As you can see from the clip up there.... Fran has a man and sadly for Baxter she is seeing the (married) chief of the company. His boss, Jeff Sheldrake. Jeff is (naturally) one of the people that hires Baxter's apartment.
So, here is the set up for what could be quite a formulaic romantic comedy as Baxter tries to win Fran from Sheldrake. Except.... an hour into the film, Fran attempts to commit suicide. A large 30 minute chunk of the film is about Baxter caring for Fran in the days after her sleeping pill overdose (prompted (amongst other things) by her realisation of who's flat she is in). Baxter has just found out who Sheldrake's mystery woman is and is heartbroken as he cares for Fran... knowing that she loves someone else. The scenes are funny at times, but more so than that they're poignant, beautiful and really quite bleak.

The film also includes a scene where Baxter watches on, with a mix of worry and adoration, as his doctor neighbour forces Fran to vomit up the sleeping pills. A scene which probably was the influence for Almost Famous and which also shows just how edgy this film was for its time (I can't think of many films made in the late 50s that dealt with stomach pumps and drug overdoses). It also showcases some of the brutality of medicine at that time - best way to sort out an overdose? Slap the woman around and force her to drink coffee. Granted, I bet it works like a charm, it just seems quite savage.

The scenes post overdose also show the fragility of Fran's character, who goes from this bantering witty confident woman to a fragile broken shell, wrapped in Baxter's dressing gown. There are wonderful moments such as the game of gin where Baxter refuses to join into Fran's conversation. She is talking about the lack of hope and falling for the wrong men and he focuses all his attention in getting her to focus on the game. This is a beautiful piece of distraction, but also, the look on Baxter's face shows how upset and heartbroken he is... a masterful piece of acting from Lemmon.

You see - I still think Some Like it Hot is a funnier film. However, The Apartment is a much greater showcase for Lemmon's skills. As the film progresses Baxter seems bolder and braver. His final move (leaving the company because he refuses to continue letting his boss seduce Fran in the apartment) is also the point where everything seems to start going well for them.

It is of course inevitable that Fran and Baxter get together and the journey that they share throughout the film meant I was really really happy when that inevitable moment happened. What I like is the intelligent way that it is all implied. The pair never kiss, never share any 'obvious' cinema affection, however it is evident that here is a couple who love each other utterly. The film is also a smart and unpredictable Romantic Comedy.
There was a fantastic blog on empireonline about how Rom-Coms these days have become far too formulaic. For some reason it was removed from the site, but it shows everything that this film isn't.
There is no hackneyed argument crowbarred in to make the couple split up, instead Fran moves from being the object of Baxter's affection, to someone who he definitely can't be with. This is a much more realistic progression and something that every person has experienced.
However as he is forced into a situation where he has to spend more time with Fran, the bond between them grows and Baxter's affections are no longer unrequited.

The moment of realisation as Fran runs to Baxter's apartment (without the dreadful fake suspense of a 'dash to the airport' which seems to be pre-requisite in all romantic comedies) is not a 'will they won't they' moment but an 'At last - she has seen sense' moment. And whilst I'm all for the occasional bit of drinking alone. I think come New Years Eve, Baxter would rather share his champagne with a beautiful lady.

The final thing I want to talk about is the final line. I don't know if it is a theme amongst Billy wilder comedies (I've only seen 2) but I've always loved the final line of Some Like it Hot (Nobodies Perfect) - it is throwaway and flippant and yet seems to encapsulate the exact emotion of the film.
In this, he manages the same thing. Baxter tells Fran he loves her and Fran replies with "Shut up and Deal".

Just a wonderful wonderful finish to a beautiful little film

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