Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" gets a 4K update

Updated: Oct 14, 2018

BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS

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. (Frame shots courtesy of Arrow Academy US)

“THE APARTMENT”


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.

Shirley MacLaine as Fran Kubelik, the adorable elevator girl.
C.C. “Bud” Baxter finally gets his own office, after his adulterous supervisors use his convenient Manhattan apartment to bring their various lady-friends.

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.

Baxter's apartment was the rendezvous spot for many after work flings.
Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) has a romantic history with married Jeff D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray)

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


Jack Kruschen as Dr. Dreyfuss a neighbor of C.C. Baxter, saves Fran after an overdose of sleeping pills.

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