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Shut up and deal: Billy Wilder’s 1960 classic, The Apartment

By Mae Brando

“Shut up and deal.”

The first time I came across The Apartment would’ve been during the colder month of January back in 2018. It was perfectly delightful. And then I kept revisiting it every year around Christmas time, my love for it gradually increasing each time- until I realized it was everything I wanted from a film--it was my favorite film. Seeing the Apartment presented on 35mm in its authentic form at the Cleveland Cinematheque on that stretched out screen was exhilarating.

Its story is told during the busiest time of the year, and perhaps the most stress-inducing as well. C.C Baxter is the lovable protagonist, an excellently molded performance from Jack Lemmon and of course the sweet, yet bold Hollywood darling, Shirley MacLaine. In my first impressions of the film, I knew it was special, but was not anticipating it to stay with me in my own experiences. Lemmon takes inspiration from Chaplin, making the humor overbearingly slapstick and satirical. And yet, so much of the story handles serious matters, such as suicide attempts, divorce, gender roles, and economical crisis. Mr. Sheldrake’s (Fred MacMurray) character is menacing and a reminder of all of this.

Both Baxter and Ms. Kubelik experience a shared exhaustion with the corporate hustle-merely pawns among the leaders. The holiday adds to the pressure. Especially with Ms. Kubelik- or rather Fran, is a woman who has lived through her own share of failed relationships and doesn’t come across as the female protagonist that is usually glanced at as prey in traditional Hollywood films: she has her own motivations, just like Baxter, to be on top. Her dinner scene at the Chinese restaurant pouring her thoughts out to her illicit lover, Mr. Sheldrake, is gut-wrenching. She diminishes herself to an “elevator girl”. Baxter wants to climb his way up in the corporate ladder. It’s incredible to note this was released in 1960 when it’s witty humor and these character’s thinking they don’t need love. What makes Wilder’s film so moving are his character’s seemingly normal lives. As an audience we are continually rooting for them, watching them fail and get back up many times over. It’s real life disguised through slapstick comedy and the dark nature of all of our very own secrets in private lives. Wilder’s inspiration came from seeing the David Lean film Brief Encounter, a film with similar dark truths. The Apartment still holds up some sixty-years later, paying homage to its enduring legacy of Wilder’s wit and charm.


About the writer

Mae Brando is a lover of all art and spends all of her time viewing and analyzing films, focusing mainly on the Golden Age of Hollywood. She is currently enrolled at Cleveland State University pursuing a double major in Film & Media Arts and English. Lately she’s getting into playwriting and creating content with her podcast: Aspect Radio.

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