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Billy Wilder once said that writing a movie without directing is like making the bed for someone else to have sex in. C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), perhaps Wilder and frequent writing collaborator I.A.L. Diamond's most relatable character, knows what that means, pretty much literally.
He wants to be the big shot at his humongous corporate insurance office (DP Joseph La Shelle's ever-imitated cinematography makes him disappear amongst the other drones), so he lets his superiors use his cushy and conveniently placed Manhattan apartment. They can bring their mistresses away from the prying eyes of their wives while dangling a promotion for Baxter's troubles.
Wilder always found ways of trolling the Hayes Code when it comes to depicting sex, and The Apartment is especially notable for being a dramedy that becomes unusually frank when dealing with sex.
Baxter thinks that he will no longer be a loner and a sad sack once he gets the big promotion so he keeps letting his bosses use his apartment, even if it means he has to sleep in the freezing cold on a park bench while also suffering from a cold. He's also in love with the lovely elevator girl, Ms. Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), but can't push himself to make a move until he becomes a "man" by getting his promotion. MacLaine and Lemmon's impeccable chemistry is part of what makes The Apartment so iconic.
Wilder meticulously builds Baxter's emotional character arc as he gradually realizes that the man he so wants to become might be a monster, like those he sucked up to while losing more and more of his humanity.
Ms. Kubelik might offer the thread back, but she's also taken for a ride by Baxter's narcissistic boss (Fred MacMurray, an uncharacteristically-for-its-time terrific turn as a sleaze who more than likely influenced the creation of Don Draper) who promises that he will eventually divorce his wife.
We all know how that promise will turn out. Within such an uncaring world where these two hopeless romantics become the "takees" by the "takers", they gradually realize that they only have each other to rely on. The Apartment is a groundbreaker when it comes to the creation of the dramedy genre.
It's a light comedy when the story requires it and a harsh drama when the characters need it to be, for them to learn lessons that are humanistic, but never didactic. Wilder's masterpiece is still timeless after more than sixty years.
I have Arrow's blu-ray release and that's the gold standard for The Apartment on that format. There's absolutely no reason to get Kino's new release if you only have a regular blu-ray player. The 4K disc adds more contrast and detail to the stark black and white photography that defined the look of the "oppressive office space" for decades to come. The dynamic range finds the perfect balance between the bright whites and the dark corners of the screen, perfectly encapsulating the film's alternating light and dark mood.
The audio on the 4K disc is the same one found in previous releases, and on the blu-ray that comes with this set. The DTS-HD 2.0 track is perfect for those looking for the original theatrical experience, while the 5.1 track adds a bit more definition and ambiance, without really showing much of a change in fidelity and range.
Commentary by Joseph McBride: This is the only new feature on this release, a very introspective commentary by Wilder historian McBride.
Commentary by Bruce Block: The renowned critic gives more of a film theory-filled take on the film, as opposed to McBride historical approach.
Magic Time: A featurette about Jack Lemmon, ported from previous releases.
Inside the Apartment: This 30-minute featurette has been a part of The Apartment's digital home video releases since the DVD days, so fans must have seen it already. If you haven't, make sure to check it out. It condenses a lot of production information into half an hour.
We also get a Trailer.
The new 4K disc by Kino is only for fans who really want that extra definition on their UHD players. In that sense, this release delivers. Anyone else can keep enjoying this masterpiece that changed the tone of mainstream cinema on older blu-rays (get the Arrow one!)
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com