Directed by Billy Wilder. Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen Club, QFT, Belfast; IFI, Dublin, 125 min
When considering Billy Wilder’s vast array of classics, cinema watchers often struggle to find a golden thread. What, aside from genius, could possibly link Some Like it Hot, Sunset Boulevard and Ninotchka?
One possible answer is Wilder’s strain of mordant, pessimistic comedy. Even the happy endings are tinged with gloom.
The Apartment (for this writer, Wilder’s finest film) both supports and undermines the theory. True, the director – working with co-writer IAL Diamond – finds endlessly grim ways of casting misery over supposedly frolicsome occasions.
As you should be aware, the picture concerns an office drone (a damp, flu-ridden Jack Lemmon) who allows his bosses to use his apartment for illicit liaisons with deluded employees. The affairs are transactions. Our hero runs a class of bordello. Ambition is no more dignified than the urge for a key to the executive bathroom. Heck, Wilder and Diamond even cancel Christmas. Lemmon celebrates the season by attempting to talk poor Shirley MacLaine out of suicide.
And yet. The film hangs on the purest, most sincere romance in Wilder’s oeuvre. The Apartment emerged in the era later fetishised by Mad Men, but nobody in that series falls so sweetly in love as does Lemmon with MacLaine. Might Wilder even allow them a happy ending?
You probably already know the answer. If not, you are to be envied the opportunity to see this near-flawless film for the first time in the cinema.