Thursday, May 24, 2018

10 Movies in 10 Days: #1 - The Apartment

So I’ve been tagged on Facebook to do my list of 10 movies over 10 days that had the most influence/resonance with me over the years. I guess these lists are fun in what they tell you about a person, but also because they may make you think of movies you hadn’t thought of in years or, better yet, encourage you to seek out those you may have never seen or heard of. A few people who know me well will likely not be surprised by most of the movies on this list (and I’ve written about a few of them on my blog), but hopefully you will still find an occasionally quirky one. I often make the distinction of favorite films, which have personal resonance, versus those that I think objectively are the best films and of course it was hard to narrow down this list and it could very well be different if you ask me again at another time. But with a few exceptions, these are mostly films that I imprinted on when I was young (up through college) and I have often re-watched over the years.

First on my list is Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960). I watched this black and white film quite a few times as a kid where it seemed to air fairly regularly on local television when I was growing up in New York. (Following that, I’ve seen it several times in a movie theater, thanks to UCLA’s film archive screenings when I was in college and at local revival houses that used to be a ubiquitous part of the L.A. landscape). Looking back, of course I didn’t know how “age inappropriate” the movie was for kids—about a shlemiel named C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) who lets his insurance company managers use his apartment for trysts. The movie also features a suicide attempt in his apartment by an elevator operator at his company (Shirley MacLaine) and a bunch of unfaithful husbands who in this age of #MeToo prey on the secretaries and telephone operators at the office. But for those who haven’t seen it, The Apartment isn’t a drama—this is a nimble, romantic comedy by the great Billy Wilder. I’ve often thought what made this movie work was Wilder’s European sensibility (he was an Austrian-Jew who fled Nazi Germany in 1933), which does not quite see sex through the same Puritan/dirty lens as Americans. With that said, it’s also a hilarious early skewering of the American corporate workplace, a precursor to the Mad Men television show. (One corporate wag dictates the memo: “Premium-wise and billing-wise, we are eighteen percent ahead of last year, October-wise.”)

At its heart, of course, this is a great romantic comedy with the great Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine as her most vulnerable, and Fred MacMurray playing against type as the manipulative CEO, Mr. Sheldrake, and a cast full of scene-stealing character actors, all helped by a crackling script, which really resonated to me for some reason. And, of course, when I watched it as I got older, I came to admire the film’s story and sophistication even more. Wilder is certainly one of our greatest filmmakers, with movies like Double Indemnity (screenwriter), Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, and of course Some Like It Hot among his credits—any of which could easily been included on this list.

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