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The Apartment: Collector's Edition DVD Review

The Apartment movie poster The Apartment

Theatrical Release: July 15, 1960 / Running Time: 125 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Billy Wilder / Writers: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond

Cast: Jack Lemmon (C.C. "Bud" Baxter), Shirley MacLaine (Fran Kubelik), Fred MacMurray (Jeff D. Sheldrake), Ray Walston (Joe Dobisch), Jack Kruschen (Dr. Dreyfuss), David Lewis (Al Kirkeby), Hope Holiday (Mrs. Margie MacDougall), Joan Shawlee (Sylvia), Naomi Stevens (Mrs. Mildred Dreyfuss), Johnny Seven (Karl Matuschka), Joyce Jameson (The Blonde), Willard Waterman (Mr. Vanderhoff), David White (Mr. Eichelberger), Edie Adams (Miss Olsen)

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By Aaron Wallace

Billy Wilder had already established himself as a master of his craft by 1960, having helmed a long string of popular films that are today considered to be among the greatest ever made. As a screenwriter, he was edgy and relevant. As a director, he was innovative and clever.
When he kicked off the 20th Century's most socially turbulent decade by writing and directing The Apartment, he was all of those things, producing a masterpiece that not only rivals the brilliance of his earlier works but also foreshadows the era to come.

C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is one of many indistinguishable desk workers at a major insurance company, his only asset a key to the apartment where he lives alone. Baxter stays at the office well past closing time each evening because his apartment is occupied by one of several coworkers and their respective mistresses. Baxter doesn't particularly mind the extra hours at work, though he'd rather have his own office and would like to spend his evenings out with the building's lovely elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).

When his boss, J.D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), learns of the key sharing, Baxter fears he'll get the boot rather than his much-desired promotion but it is in fact the latter that Sheldrake offers -- in exchange for a key of his own. Baxter eagerly consents but soon regrets it when he learns that Ms. Kubelik is Sheldrake's mistress.

C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) spends another day at his desk in a seemingly endless office. Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in a battle of whimsy.

Though not for a moment vulgar, The Apartment is brazenly sexual. By 1960, the Production Code, which regulated the content of films to uphold certain moral and patriotic standards in lieu of governmental censorship or a formal rating system, was beginning to crumble. Just one year prior, Wilder's envelope-pushing Some Like It Hot had been one of the first major films released without Code approval. Significant though it was, Hot is quite mild in comparison to its successor.

Throughout The Apartment, it is very clear that people are having sex. What's more, married people are having sex -- with people who aren't their spouses. To add insult to injury, no one in the film seems terribly upset about that idea either. Adultery and promiscuity are discussed at the workplace and in the neighborhood with smiling faces. As if there was nothing more casual than sex in a time when sex was certainly not casual (at least not in the movies), the film's disposition toward sexuality is nothing short of amoral.

For a 1960 film, that's downright astonishing. Gone are the days when a quick glance from one character to the next or a ruffled pillow would have to suffice for implying an intimate relationship. Here, Baxter calls himself a "sexpot" while his neighbors marvel at the parade of lovers they see march through his door and Sheldrake talks of having liaisons "just for laughs." More than just the demonstration of new rules for Hollywood, The Apartment was an important indicator of the emerging attitudinal evolution with respect to sexuality in 1960s America.

Fred MacMurray finds himself tangled up in an insurance agency once again, no less crooked this  time than in "Double Indemnity"! Fred MacMurray can't stray too far Disney, here putting the moves on Shirley MacLaine in what  looks suspiciously like The Enchanted Tiki Room.

The film defies classification. Critics most often label it a comedy and to be sure, it is funny -- occasionally uproarious but more often amusing and ironic. The nonchalant tone lends levity to the narrative. But before all is said and done, the very serious effects of a romance spread too thin are given equal weight and there is tremendous dramatic gravitas.
Another taboo though not unheard of "s"-word in Code-era Hollywood, suicide, becomes as important to the narrative as sex. Others have called it a romance and while that element is central, the movie is lacking the sentimentality to fall squarely within that genre. And yet the transition is far from jarring. Baxter's growth as a human being renders a thought-provoking sum out of both the values-ambiguous beginning and the wholly non-clichιd ending.

Showing his knack for brilliant casting, Wilder picked two stars he'd worked with before, Jack Lemmon (Some Like It Hot) and Fred MacMurray (Double Indemnity), and the fresh-faced Shirley MacLaine for the film's three lead roles. Lemmon commands the lion's share of the screen time and is delightful in his earnest, hilarious performance. MacLaine's airy delivery is alluring, nothing like the odd real-life persona she is better known for today. The audience falls for her right along with the leading men. MacMurray, in a daring departure from the family-friendly image he was beginning to cultivate at the Disney studio and in then-upcoming "My Three Sons", provides an interesting character study with his portrayal of a rather unlikable fellow whose sense of decency is considerably more deplorable than that of Walter Neff in Indemnity.

Ms. Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) finds herself alone in Baxter's apartment. Baxter's arrangement with these four men (Ray Walston, David White, Willard Waterman, and David Lewis) in "The Apartment" redefines the concept of  roommates.

At least as interesting as the content and the acting is the direction, again the masterful product of Billy Wilder. Each shot is thoughtfully composed with the widescreen ratio in mind. Wilder makes the most of the wide Panavision frame, putting characters on opposite ends for dramatic effect when appropriate. Inside the titular apartment, the bedroom is centered in the background while action can unfold in the living room or kitchen, a testament to the excellent set design as well. The director calls on his noir experience for the darkest moments while otherwise keeping things aesthetically light. Adolph Deutsch's immediately memorable score is always in tune with the evolving tone and invaluable to the film's effectiveness too. In short, all the facets of great filmmaking are on display in this truly great piece of cinema.

The Apartment was another box office success for Wilder. Critics loved it too and despite the dissenting voices condemning its perceived immorality, it received ten Oscar nominations and five wins, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay among them (all three going to Wilder himself). The film placed in the bottom half of both editions of AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies lists and fared well in the Laughs and Passions editions as well. The movie was first released to DVD in 2001 with only a theatrical trailer as a supplement. This week, MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment issued a new Collector's Edition, profiled below.

Buy The Apartment: Collector's Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English, Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: February 5, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98
(Reduced from $19.98)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black keepcase


The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is enhanced for 16x9 displays. The picture quality is excellent, showing vibrant blacks and contrasts in gray that make the important changes in lighting easy to study. Each frame is stunning in Fox/MGM's excellent transfer. Without the 2001 release in my possession, I can't compare video quality between the two, but those who own both have reported considerable improvement in this new transfer over a reportedly decent transfer on the previous edition.

The film is presented in both 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound and 2.0 Mono. The two-channel mono track is clearly audible and volume is never an issue. The 5.1 Surround Sound track offers very little actual surround sound. Aside from the occasional swell of score, the rear channel activity is only audible when the speakers are placed against the ear and the subwoofers expectedly have very little bass to work with. Either track is acceptable but the Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounds more natural than the somewhat stuffy mono track that sounds almost muted in comparison when toggling between the two.

Shirley MacLaine reflects on Billy Wilder and her first collaboration with him in "Inside 'The Apartment.'" The many faces of Jack Lemmon, as seen in the opening to the "Magic Time: The Art of Jack  Lemmon" featurette. The 16x9 main menu for The Apartment: Collector's Edition DVD is a little odd but fun enough.


There are three special features on the disc, the lengthiest of which is a feature audio commentary by film historian Bruce Block. Informative and insightful, Block sets the film into various contexts and provides some great analysis as well as abundant background information.
The track suffers from occasional lulls of silence but is otherwise worth listening to.

"Inside The Apartment" (29:36) is a half-hour documentary that focuses on individuals' understanding of the movie and their reflections on its legacy rather than production details. A host of people are interviewed, ranging from film professors to TCM host Robert Osborne, but most notable is a relatively recent sit-down with Shirley MacLaine.

"Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon" (12:48) is a featurette on the legendary actor, prominently featuring an interview with his son, Chris. The piece is a brief one but is a touching personal tribute from son to father that manages to convey an overview of Lemmon's filmography and a sense of what made his performances so unique.

All three bonus features are quite good but it's a shame that more wasn't included. That's especially true for the trailer that was included on the previous DVD release but is inexcusably absent from the Collector's Edition.

The 16x9 main menu is a somewhat odd, choppy montage of clips from the movie, cut out and set against an artsy, animated background as the memorable theme plays. The sub-menus are still screens; the Special Features menu is accompanied by score while the others are silent.

The disc is packaged in a standard black keepcase, bearing a disc label that bears the same image as the rather plain and unbecoming cover art. There is no slipcover and no inserts of any kind inside.

The classic scene from "The Apartment" A telling shot of Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), courtesy of Billy Wilder.


The Apartment is an amazing movie, one to be enjoyed on the first viewing and studied on the subsequent ones that you'll undoubtedly want to have. It is a solid story that employs a single location -- the protagonist's apartment --
as an engine that drives considerably more complex drama. Daring not only for its time but even for today (I dare say there are plenty of parents who wouldn't want their children watching even in 2008), the movie is fascinating not only on its own merits, but in its historical context as well.

Fox/MGM's new Collector's Edition DVD isn't the definitive release that one might expect. With the movie's 50th anniversary just two years away, it's certainly possible that a grander edition will pop up in 2010. In the meantime, a pleasing audio/video presentation, three very good bonus features, and one of the best films this critic has encountered are reason enough to add The Apartment to your collection.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
The Odd Couple (Centennial Collection) • The Hustler (Collector's Edition) • The Graduate (40th Anniversary Edition)
Funny Face (50th Anniversary Edition) • An Affair to Remember (50th Anniversary Edition)
Best Picture Winners: The Godfather (1972) • Chicago (Razzle-Dazzle Edition) • No Country for Old Men (2007)

Starring Fred MacMurray:
The Shaggy Dog (1959) • The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) • Bon Voyage! (1962)
Son of Flubber (1963) • Follow Me, Boys! (1966) • The Happiest Millionaire (1967)

Featuring The Cast of The Apartment:
Shirley Maclaine: Carolina (2005)
Ray Walston: Popeye (1980) | Jack Kruschen: Million Dollar Duck (1971) | David White: Snowball Express (1972)

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Reviewed February 7, 2008.

Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1960 20th Century Fox and 2008 Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.