Released in 1960, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment stands as one of the filmmaker’s greatest works, a motion picture written with intelligence, directed with style, and preformed with vitality by its splendid cast, which included Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, David Lewis, Willard Waterman, David White, Edie Adams, Hope Holiday, and Jack Kruschen. Few modern romantic comedies have ever reached the heights of this film, which despite being over 50 years old, doesn’t feel dated; there’s a truthful sense of humor and life running all throughout this film’s narrative bones with the sexually thematic underpinnings never losing their bite.
Wilder and co-screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond struck a superb combination of drama and laughs, while never forgetting to ground the story in something emotionally substantial. The idea that Wilder followed up Some Like It Hot with The Apartment is sort of mind-boggling; a director would be lucky to make a film that’s half as good as either of those, let alone release them back to back. The excellent musical score by Adolph Deutsch perfectly matched the on-screen action which was captured in a studious manner by cinematographer Joseph LaShelle; the patient but never slack editing was handled by Daniel Mandell.
And then there’s the titular location itself, beautifully designed by Alexandre Trauner and Edward Boyle, which certainly becomes its own character as a result of the various people occupying the space. This film really has it all; the aesthetics were in line with the themes, Lemmon was in full swing, and the end result is intoxicating. Grossing $25 million back when money was real, The Apartment garnered 10 Academy Award nominations, and won five, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Art/Set Decoration. In 1968, the film received a Broadway spin-off called Promises, with Neil Simon, Burt Bacharach, and Hal David collaborating on the stage project.