The Apartment

AFI Rank: #93
Year Released: 1960
Director: Billy Wilder
Actors: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine

It can be hard for a movie to last more than a decade or two and seem well crafted, well acted, and relevant. We've seen that time and time again with lesser movies. The Apartment gets great kudos for creating a story and characters which resonate as strongly today as they did in 1960.

Shirley MacLaine is a woman who knows she self sabotages. Despite her attempts to get a secretarial job she is stuck pushing buttons in an elevator. She manages to hook up with married men and fall for their lives. She wishes she could do better, but she just can't seem to get out of her trap.

Jack Lemmon is, in many ways, the opposite. He focuses with every ounce of his energy on working hard and moving up. He makes sure every decision is the right one and he organizes to the T. One way he greases his progress is by lending out his apartment during "off hours" to married co-workers who are cheating on their wives.

Yes, this is a seedy underbelly view of life. Yes, the adultery sucks. That's part of the point of the story. The men laugh while the women cry, and for a while Jack tries to be immune to it all. His worst gripe is that they don't clear out soon enough, so he has to sleep on a park bench.

But along the way he begins to fall for Shirley, and her plight makes him realize just what he is doing. He strives to focus on his upward progress, but soon he is having to weigh the costs.

I compare this with Breakfast at Tiffany's which is in essence a quite similar story. It's a seedy underbelly with cheating people in it. But where Breakfast at Tiffany's made the life seem rich with fun and laughter, here we see the true cost of the pain and heartache. The lies dig into their hearts, the lack of trust pulls down at the soul. You can see in Shirley's eyes that even when she feels she's in love that it's just not right.

The dialogue is great, the characters are spot-on, and it even passes the Bechdel test. You've got strong male and female characters, and where ethnic minorities are brought in, it is done with respect. There are many reasons this movie strongly deserves its spot in the AFI top 100 listing.

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AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100