If you’re like me and you love Mad Men you really owe it to yourself to see The Apartment, the 1961 Academy Award winner for Best Picture. The film has to be the inspiration for the popular TV series, either that or Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner is the reincarnation of director Billy Wilder. The comparisons are numerous.
The Apartment is about a low-level employee at a big insurance company (played by Jack Lemmon) who has found an interesting way to get ahead — he loans out his apartment to company executives to use for their extramarital trysts. Everything seems to be going fine until one of the executives messes with the gal he has a little crush on. It’s a romantic dramedy set in 1960s Manhattan.
The film is classic Billy Wilder, who also directed such great films as Some Like it Hot and Sunset Boulevard (both of which rank high on the AFI list). What sets The Apartment apart for me is the wonderful and quick-witted dialogue and the spot-on performance by Lemmon. While Lemmon did not win the Oscar for his role (he lost to Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry) he was superb and was recognized with a Golden Globe. Lemmon was brilliant in so many roles, and for me he’ll always be The Odd Couple’s Felix Unger, but I’ll now add his portrayal of bachelor C.C. Baxter to the list of his memorable characters.
Shirley MacLaine was also nominated for an Oscar for her work in The Apartment (she lost out to Elizabeth Taylor), and her adorable elevator operator Fran Kubelik was nicely done. Fred MacMurray plays the awful head of “personnel” who is the Don Draper of the film. I have always equated MacMurray to his role as the perfect dad on My Three Sons so it was weird for me to see him as a womanizing ass.
The office scenes in The Apartment were pure Mad Men. The women were all secretaries and sleeping with the executives. The executives were always smoking and drinking and cheating on their wives. One secretary is even fired after spilling the beans on MacMurray’s affair (apparently sexual harassment wasn’t a legal issue in 1960). It’s a very enjoyable film and a real throwback to a time that seems like generations ago but wasn’t really all that long ago. Definitely worth seeing.
Next up: The Wild Bunch