Directed by Billy Wilder
I find it very hard to critique films by Billy Wilder. On one hand, films like “Sunset Blvd.” and “Double Indemnity” are undoubtably awesome. On the other hand, I found “Some Like It Hot” to be extremely overrated. “The Apartment” manages to fall somewhere in the middle between these two categories.
I think that the issue comes with both “Some Like It Hot” and “The Apartment” being advertised (and remembered) as two of the greatest comedic films of all time. Comedies, more so than any other type of film genre, are subject to both the audiences sense of humor and the context of the times in which they are created. Many comedies from fifty years ago just aren’t funny anymore. At least not in the way they used to be. Now, I’m not necessarily suggesting that this change in humor stylings is a good thing. Certainly ever since the advent of Mel Brooks, humor has changed for both the better and the worst. It largely depends on that second aspect, the audiences personal sense of humor. Some people may find the campfire scene in Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” to be a highlight in modern comedy. Others will see it as one of the lowest points. (I’m of the latter.)
The reason that “The Apartment” does not feel quite as dated as “Some Like It Hot” is because the film is not an outright comedy. The story of a young man looking to get ahead in his company by renting out his apartment for use as a brothel by his bosses, offers up a surprising amount of heart. And most of this heart comes from the lead performances by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Regardless of the many stupid decisions that both characters make throughout the film, you hope that by the end, it all works out for them. The film doesn’t rely on constant one-liners to make its audience laugh. Instead, it tries to make the audience care for its characters, which in turn allows for them to see the humor in the situations these characters find themselves in. (Though this being a Billy Wilder film there are still quite a few one-liners, some of which work, some of which don’t.) If anything, I have to give the film credit for having its main character practically be a pimp. Even in 1960, this was practically an unheard of storyline, especially for a film that would go on to win the Academy Award for best picture. Now of course, what exactly transpires it Bud’s apartment is never explicitly shown or talked about, but it was certainly a step forward as far as risqué narrative goes. (And the film even includes a suicide attempt! In a comedy!)
“The Apartment” is a very charming film. And on the strength of its two main leads it manages to find a way to transform itself into something better than it probably had any right of being. But it’s still not that funny. It’s a very good movie, but not exactly a great comedy.