Updated: Oct 14, 2018
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Blu-ray; 1960; Not Rated, contains adult themes
Best extra: “The Key to the Apartment”
BILLY WILDER, the legendary Vienna-born director/writer/producer, gave the world an uncanny number of timeless classics such as “Double Indemnity,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and “The Seven-Year Itch.” Following right on the heels of “Some Like it Hot,” Wilder cast one of its stars in a less showy, but no less enjoyable, romantic comedy.
Jack Lemmon is a perfect fit as C.C. “Bud” Baxter, a “schnook” who works at one of thousands of desks in a sprawling New York insurance company. What sets him apart from his peers is his conveniently-located Manhattan bachelor apartment. Several of Baxter’s adulterous supervisors use his place to bring their various lady-friends, in exchange for promises of job promotions. Baxter suffers the various indignities – and discomforts – of not being able to go home, or being awakened in the middle of the night and forced out into the street, to accommodate a 45-minute tryst. But for Baxter, it seems worth all that for the prospect of moving from the enormous sea of drone-like workers up into a luxurious office of his own.
His priorities begin to change, however, when he falls for an adorable elevator girl (Shirley MacLaine) who, he discovers, has a romantic history with one of the big, married bosses (Fred MacMurray). With a great supporting cast that includes Edie Adams and Ray Walston, and a whipsmart script by Wilder and his frequent collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, “The Apartment” is a thoroughly satisfying and consistently entertaining treat, well deserving of its five Oscars. It’s even rather timely, #MeToo-movement-wise, as its plot shows how both men and women can be compromised by those wielding power over them.
Arrow Video presents this 4K limited-edition Blu-ray restoration of “The Apartment,” previously released on Blu-ray by MGM in 2012. This version comes in a special box set, with new features and a 150-page hardback book. The transfer, sourced from a 35 mm fine grain positive, results in a pristinely clean appearance, excellent contrast with great detail, and a large variety of black to white gradations. The sound quality is also excellent, allowing for perfectly clear dialogue and a fine presentation of Adolph Deutsch’s score. The repeated theme, composed by Charles Williams, became a pop hit, and should be quite familiar to those viewers of a certain age.
Arrow provides an especially generous bunch of extras including several borrowed from the 2012 release, such as film historian/producer Bruce Block’s informative commentary; a making-of documentary; and a tribute to Lemmon.
The new features include a video essay about Wilder’s collaborations with Lemmon; an interview with actress Hope Holiday, who played a supporting role; a “Restoration Showreel,” displaying the before’s and after’s; a charming 1995 archival video interview with Wilder; and the aforementioned book, which contains several essays and archival stills.
“The Key to the Apartment” is a 2017 interview with English film historian Philip Kemp, who pronounces it “the greatest film Billy Wilder ever made.” Kemp jokes about its themes: “pimping, prostitution, suicide … it’s gotta be a comedy!” The insurance company setting, says Kemp, is presented as a “capitalist heaven on earth,” staffed with wage slaves and run by “greedy, treacherous bosses.” He quotes Wilder, who himself was quoting Ernst Lubitsch, that “casting is 95% of a film,” and praises Wilder’s picks, especially that of Jack Lemmon, the perfect everyman, and Shirley MacLaine. “The Apartment,” adds Kemp, provided MacLaine with the high point of her career.
- Peggy Earle