There they are! Arguably one of the greatest film directors of all time and his muse. From the screwball comedy of Some Like It Hot to the greatest tale of Hollywood in Sunset Boulevard; the ultimate film noir of Double Indemnity to the searing – still contemporary – Ace In The Hole, Billy Wilder delivered classic after classic after classic. Jack Lemmon was the star that fitted Wilder’s brilliantly conceived characters like a Saville Row three-piece and was never better than in my favourite movie of them all, The Apartment.
Jack plays C C Baxter (“C for Charlie, C for Calvin, but most people call me Bud”), the lovable but conniving corporate climber, running a knocking shop for randy executives from his bachelor pad in New York. Bud loves troubled elevator girl Fran Kubelick, played with wit and warmth by Shirley MacLaine, and wants to close the doors of his love nest for good so he can feather it with her. Trouble is, life just ain’t that simple…
This is a movie about so many things: ambition in corporate America, urban living, loneliness, friendship and infidelity. It can be truthful, heart-breaking, dramatic, gripping, romantic and as laugh-out-loud funny as you’d expect from the best of Billy Wilder.
Every character is played to perfection: Fred MacMurray’s sleazy Mr. Sheldrake; the effervescent MacLaine and, of course, the legend that is Lemmon giving the most natural but nuanced performance of his life. Even Bud’s neighbours, compassionate Doctor Drefyus and his disapproving wife (“No napkins?! Beatnick!”), are colourful, complex and believable. No wonder the movie won 5 Oscars (when it meant something). Wilder won for the movie and his sublime directing, as well as the pitch-perfect screenplay written with long-time writing partner I A L Diamond (criminally this is the only Oscar they won together, though they were nominated for Some Like It Hot and The Fortune Cookie). Academy Awards were also given for art direction and editing but MacLaine and Lemmon went home empty-handed. It was a tough year. Jack lost out to Burt Lancaster’s Elmer Gantry with Laurence Olivier’s The Entertainer snapping at their heels (Kirk Douglas wasn’t even nominated for Spartacus – then, neither was Stanley Kubrick!). Shirley MacLaine was pipped by Elizabeth Taylor for Butterfield 8, no shame there.
So do yourselves a favour. Stock up the fridge, lock the front door, put on your PJs and turn off the phone. Then, settle in for a Wilder weekend. Perhaps kick of light with Some Like it Hot and Sabrina, maybe take a detour through Irma La Douce, before getting serious with Witness For The Prosecution, Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity. You mustn’t forget The Fortune Cookie for some Lemmon/Matthau fun, but you could get obscure with Ace In The Hole and Stalag 17 or even the underrated Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. There are, of course, many more to choose from.
Save the last slot for The Apartment. I’m not even sure if it’s his best picture but it’s my favourite Wilder-wise, and movie-wise in general (and if you watch it, you’ll get the joke in that last sentence). Cynical romantic that I am, I think it’s just heaven.
Here’s one of many brilliant moments, and some of the best movie writing you’ll find.
See you tomorrow for some super powers.