We Love… Christmas: ‘The Apartment’

Illustration by Adeline Pericart

Throughout December we’ll be adding more Christmas films we love – so keep an eye on the website and feel free to add any of your own…


The Apartment

William O’Keefe

The tag line for The Apartment runs: ‘Movie-wise there has never been anything like The Apartment; love-wise, laugh-wise or other-wise’. On all accounts this is true. There are laughs – line after line of smart and sophisticated humour, the tag line refers to the addition of the word ‘wise’ to many words spoken during the film, mocking the corporate speak of the world these people inhabit.

‘That’s how it crumbles, cook-wise’

This is only one of many touches and detail which litter the film. So too there is all the mess and drama of love and there is all the other darkness and light that mark this movie apart from what you might expect of a black and white movie from 1960. The film is full of flawed people, self-serving and unaware – there is depth to the characters, they are trapped by circumstance and their own foibles. There is no easy fix working towards a sugar coated resolution on Christmas morning. Jack Lemmon, on everyman duty as ‘Bud’, and in winning form doing so, spends Christmas Day nursing Shirley MacClaine’s ‘Fran’ through her suicide attempt from the previous evening. Bud loves Fran, but she had ended up on his apartment on Christmas Eve because she is caught up in an affair with a married man and Bud lets out his apartment to senior executives in his work place in return for career advancement to roles which have no meaning, but nice offices.

Bud’s love for Fran is the purest element of the film. His and her actions are otherwise both misguided. Bud describes himself as Robinson Crusoe, ship wrecked among eight million people. There is no better description for this lost man, sitting on park benches while his apartment is used for affairs as he slips into docile acceptance of his situation. Shirley MacClaine plays Fran as naïve but jaded, self-aware but self-destructive. From the minute she appears on screen she sets proceedings alight with her snappy delivery, wit and eyes which can tear up on cue. She likes the cracked mirror in her make up compact as it reflects how she sees herself. She just might be the best example of a person to love because of her flaws.

‘When you’re in love with a married man, you shouldn’t wear mascara’

Ironic misfortune and debauched Christmas parties set events in a downward spiral. The Christmas setting is the apt background for the wavering souls. A solution or a change at least does come for our couple however. Bud decides to extricate himself from his situation on New Years Eve while Fran needs one final wake up call to the reality of her situation and who truly cares for her. The final scene is perfect and elusive in a way – for this writer it suggests the couple have a way to go. She may have run through the melee of New Year’s Eve to find Bud, but Fran does not admit to any love. She is committed to them as a unit and how they will go to ‘another neighbourhood, another town, another job’. The final result is a hopeful one as they begin a new year together – a very effective sign off.

There are many quotes about cinema and the medium of film. My favourite of these is that cinema is not a slice of life, it is a slice of cake. The Apartment is the essence of such a sweet treat. Billy Wilder amidst the high point of his career, delivers a rich, wonderfully cynical commentary, a romance and a comedy. The film abounds in charm and as a construct is near perfect in terms of tone, character and story.


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