The Apartment ★★★★½

I go back and forth in my mind as to what exactly is the funniest film written by Billy Wilder; this or Some Like It Hot. I think Some Like It Hot has more laugh out loud humor in it, but The Apartment is overall a funnier film. Six in one and a half dozen in the other I suppose, it doesn't change the fact that The Apartment is a great film.

Winning the Oscar for Best Picture in 1960 (and arguably the last great film that Wilder would produce in a very productive Hollywood career up to that point), The Apartment is a setup for a film that's become so commonplace, that it's hard to believe that the set-up really hadn't been used before. This film was made at the tail end of the Hays Production Code, when sexuality was beginning to be opened up to the general movie-going public. Though there were still several taboos in the broadcast media (it would be another three years before a couple was shown in bed together on television, and even then it would be Wilma and Fred Flintstone) and on the silver screen, it would have been impossible to have made the film ten years earlier (indeed the initial story idea came to Wilder in the 1940s with Noel Coward's Brief Encounter), so the fact that this film does exist should prove something of a demarcation line in American cinema, no matter how thin.

What makes this a great film are two elements. The first is the script, which as with many Billy Wilder works is expertly written both in terms of story and in terms of incredibly witty dialogue. Like I said, this film does lack many of the laugh out loud moments that Some Like It Hot featured, but it still has its moments.

Many of those moments simply come from the terrific performances of both Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, with Fred MacMurray also turning in a fine performance as Lemmon's boss. Lemmon in particular is saddled with many of the film's more dramatic moments, and where other actors might have allowed some of the cynicism that was commonplace in Wilder's scripts shine through, Lemmon conveys the character of Bud Baxter as a lovable loser who's heart is ultimately in the right place. There's genuine pathos in this film, something that isn't always present in Billy Wilder's films, and its certainly a welcome narrative change.

The Apartment remains a classic film and one of the best written BP winners of all time. It's a master class in strong three act structure, and in dialogue writing both, and deserves to be checked out.