Sunday, 4 May 2014

"The Apartment" on BLU RAY – A Review Of The 1960 Billy Wilder/I.A.L. Diamopnd Classic Movie Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred McMurray…

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"…It'll Be Our Little Secret…" – The Apartment on BLU RAY

It’s November 1959 - and sat at Desk 861 in the towering New York City Central Office of Consolidated Life (the 5th biggest insurance company in the USA) – sits lowly worker C.C. Baxter. Clifford Charles (nicknamed Bud) is up on the 19th floor every day at 08:50 a.m. precisely - monotonously tapping away on his Priden calculating machine like all the other 31,259 employees sat in long lines of square desks behind him. But Bud has a more pressing 'problem' than working out in his brain how far eight million New Yorkers will stretch if laid out side-by-side – access to his Manhattan apartment situated a short distance away from Central Park and near the office…

You see Apartment 2A in 51 West 67th Street has become rumpy-pumpy central for a group of managerial types at Consolidated Life. There’s Mr. Eichelberger from Mortgage and Loans booked in on Friday, Mr. Kirkeby from Accounts going at it on Thursday and Mr. Vanderhoff from Public Relations having an extra-martial swing on Wednesday. Bluntly there’s barely enough room for Mr. Dobisch from Admin come the weekend - nor even space for Switchboard Sylvia partnered with the cheap but suavely dressed Mr. Lieberman on Tuesday.  

You wouldn’t mind if they were gentlemen about it either. “You mean you bring other dames up here! Certainly not! I’m a happily married man!” Lieberman complains as Sylvia asks for cab fare back to the Bronx. Bud has to wait outside his apartment in the cold night air for the two lovebirds to clear off. They said they’d be out by eight – but it’s already quarter before nine. “These things don’t run to a clock!” he explains to Bud when he has to go back to get Sylvia’s galoshes. It’s a wonder Bud finds time for a TV dinner, a classic movie on his black and white TV that never seems to arrive because of craftily placed advert breaks (“A word from our sponsors…a word from our alternate sponsors!”) or to clear away the Vermouth bottles and empty Cheese Cracker packets.

Worse – on hearing the noises emanating from his bachelor pad - his impressionable Jewish neighbours Dr. and Mrs. Dreyfuss think Bud’s a massive playboy - “Mildred! He’s at it again!” the Doctor cries. So why does Bud put up with it all? Because he’s really hoping that all those corporate promises made by randy execs back in the office will help him climb the promotion ladder to maybe 2nd Administrative Assistant. But when he gets locked out of 2A until 4 a.m. one night and develops a fever from sleeping on a Central Park bench – he slowly twigs that his ‘loyal, resourceful and co-operative’ nature as described in their internal reports is being taken advantage of (dialogue above) - and for a wage of $95 a week – it’s all starting to become a bit much.

The only other human joy Bud gets is from his daily close-proximity meets with the pretty Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) – a nice respectable girl who operates one of the 16 elevators in the office skyscraper. Bud takes off his hat for her (the only one who does - which she likes) – and on occasion exchanges schmuck talk with her. Fran seems smart and wears a flower in the lapel of her immaculate uniform while fending off the roving hands of managers patting her buttocks as they exit on Floor 27. Then one night Bud musters up the courage to ask Fran out – but she has other plans - a date with Jeff Sheldrake from Personnel (Fred McMurray) – whom his secretary Miss Olsen (Evie Adams) knows is a notorious womanizer and is very, very good at it.

And on it goes to a hopeful Christmas party, a disastrous date with two tickets for the comedy show “The Music Man” where she doesn’t show and an unintentional personality reveal on her part with a broken vanity mirror that he recognizes to his horror. Will the hapless couple see the error of their ways – will they end up playing gin rummy together in ‘their’ apartment – in love – and free from manipulation and takers…

Much like “Pillow Talk” from the year previous – “The Apartment” was a staggeringly grown-up movie for 1960. It offered up probing dialogue, genuine wit on the battle of the sexes and awkward truths on relationships in the workplace. It also featured believable yet likeable characters - five womanizing schmucks, a gullible but worthy leading lady and one bungling but sincere klutz who learns the hard way how to be a stand-up guy.

The script came to Director Billy Wilder via two places – a viewing of Britain’s “Brief Encounter” in the Forties where a married couple use someone else’s home in London for an affair – and a notorious Hollywood scandal where it transpired that the mogul charged had been using the apartment of an employee. Wilder then brought in the genius of I.A.L. Diamond to give the harsh script a warmer touch (legend has it that IAL stands for Interscholastic Algebra League which Izzy Diamond won in 1937).

They began by toning down everything – the apartment isn’t Central Park West lushness colourful with money – it’s dowdy and filled with used records, curling art prints on the wall, a lone lamp, an old gas oven and the everyman of Jack Lemmon. Shot in Widescreen Black and White – the tones made the November evenings feel chillier and the massive long office floor look like a monochrome factory where life is not lived but wasted away on paperwork. Even the famous suicide scene where Fran (Shirley MacLaine) tries to off herself with sleeping pills sees the doctor next door (a fantastic Jack Kruschen) violently slap her face, make her walk and force cups of coffee down her throat to stop the stupor from killing her. And the four Office Managers are all ordinary-looking middle-aged men who really should know better – they’re not sexy – they’re just high on power and kicks. It’s not pretty and quite dark in its undertones in places. So - how do you get affection and redemption out of this saucy stew?

The answer is the acting talent of Lemmon and MacLaine and a multi-layered script imbibed with pathos and humour to soften the underbelly of seediness. Coming off “Some Like It Hot” – Jack Lemmon showed what he could do – but ‘The Apartment” let him shine - doing comedy, romance and drama – all in the one movie. The leading actress needed to be sexy, ballsy, vulnerable and likeable enough to not be perceived as a sappy victim – and Shirley MacLaine delivered on every front. Their slow dance towards each other is beautifully and realistically handled - while Fred McMurray goes completely against nice-guy type by being a cruel man dressed up in groomed civility – doling out smiling condolences from the other end of a phone where he doesn’t haven’t to get his actual hands dirty.

The picture quality is excellent – and on occasion – gorgeous. The Aspect Ratio is 2.35:1 Widescreen so there are bars top and bottom – but even stretched to Full Screen – it looks great. From the moment the opening credits appear – it’s obvious too there’s been extensive cleaning and restoration. There is however a very fine shimmer of natural grain throughout that rarely disappears. But when it does – the picture suddenly becomes exceptional – almost noir in its lighting and shades. The scene between McMurray and MacLaine in the Chinese restaurant The Rickshaw where he once again promises to leave his wife for a woman is one such moment – a side profile shot as they talk – and it’s just beautiful to look at.

The Extras are pleasingly deep. A discussion on the film that includes Nineties interviews with Evie Adams, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon’s son Paul and film experts on Wilder and Diamond. There’s also a fabulous commentary by BRUCE BLOCK for the duration of the movie where he gives real details on the actors, the sets and even quotes from Wilder’s screenplay to show the accuracy of how scenes were depicted (his description of “The Apartment” itself is filled with exact items he wanted).  It’s exemplary stuff. Audio is English 5.1 TS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Mono and French Mono. Subtitles are English for the Hearing Impaired, Spanish and French.

“I love you…so completely…” Jack Lemmon says to Shirley MacLaine. Finally contented that she’s picked the right guy this time – Shirley smiles affectionately at Jack – and with that old confidence back in her voice says - “Shut up and deal…”

A great film rather than a good one - book a night in for a game of emotional Gin Rummy with "The Apartment" real soon.

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