Welcome to ESTA’S ECLECTIC CLASSIC CORNER. These are movies that have stood the test of time throughout past decades and made a difference in my life. Films that I could watch over and over and still love them as much as the first viewing. They are like “comfort food” for me. Each week I will review a classic that I have loved and can’t wait to share my thoughts with you.
Please note there will be some spoilers in these reviews. I will have to share some of my favorite scenes and dialogue to back up my personal reflections. I am who l am because of theatre and movies.
All my life, I have heard the phrase “be a mensch.” It is the cornerstone of the Jewish faith. The simplest definition is “be a human being.” Choose to be kind and considerate. My son, Aaron, would paraphrase it as “make good choices.” All good advice. These simple words are in my heart and brain to this day. It is not always easy to go up against those you give power to. It is hard to be the person you dream of being. You fall…you falter…and you try again. Some take years to get it right. For others, lightbulbs go off immediately. I was lucky. After watching THE APARTMENT in 1960 when I was in junior high, I knew I would try to be a “mensch” as often as possible for the rest of my life. Every day as a teacher, I always had that thought front and center. I wanted to do good deeds, help others, and never put the power of “making more money” ahead of what gave me joy. Money is not everything. Yes, it can help you live a comfortable life, but are you doing what you are supposed to do, being who you were meant to be? Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) would say, “ring a ding-ding.” I so agree.
THE APARTMENT was written, produced, and directed by Billy Wilder. It was a hit, made money, and Billy went on to direct an even bigger hit, SOME LIKE IT HOT. At the center of this comedy/drama is C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemon), one of the 31,000 employees of Consolidated Life Insurance Company. C.C. is called Bud or Buddy Boy by four married executives who use his apartment for trysts with sexy, single women. Bud is a bachelor who cannot say no when they ask for his key. He just schedules and shuffles them in his calendar while he is out in the cold every night. Bud buys the booze, cheese, and crackers. He falls asleep on park benches while his neighbors think he is a heartless swinger. Bud believes this is the way to getting that promotion and getting ahead. He has to stand out from the crowd. Enter Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), the chief. The “big boss.” He has heard about this shared, “wandering key,” and he wants to get in on the action with Fran, the elevator operator. Of course, Bud can’t refuse him. Bud adores Fran, but he thinks she is a sweet, “shy” lady. He wants to date her. Oh, what a terrible conundrum.
The plot only gets darker and more realistic. It is a downhill spiral for all until Bud decides to be a human being.
THE APARTMENT is filmed in black and white. The cinematography shows off the New York City of the late 50s. The writing was perfection that balanced between the “dirtiness” of the times and what should have been innocent yesterdays. The Me Too Movement would have a field day with the male “executive privilege.” Secretaries and lower-level workers did not have a chance. There was endless gossip, labeling, and bullying in the workplace. And if that wasn’t enough, throw in a suicide attempt to get the attention you crave and need. Dark times that were saved by the brilliant acting of Jack, Shirley, and Fred.
This trio could have taken THE APARTMENT into maudlin, sappy moments. Instead, dialogues were underplayed authentically and completely honest. My heart broke for Bud when he was standing in front of the theatre with two tickets in hand for THE MUSIC MAN. I laughed out loud when draining spaghetti became a “racket.” Fran was beautiful and stunning. She commanded your attention. She was breathtaking as a delicate victim and a woman who “can’t spell and will send a fruit cake each year.” Mr. Sheldrake personified the boss you hate. He played a “pig” of a man who had no respect for any woman, his wife included. These three made the movie come alive in a haunting, real, memorable manner.
THE APARTMENT began with “four rotten apples” and journeyed through the adage of “never wearing mascara if you are in love with a married man.” This is all because if you “see a girl a couple times a week, then they think you will divorce your wife.” A $100 bill and a broken compact mirror made the difference in where this story ends. Billy Wilder gave us a movie that is just as fresh and current as it was over sixty years ago.
THE APARTMENT is a film classic of the highest caliber. It shines a light on “un-menschable” moments from our past, present, and hopefully, not our future.
It is available on AMAZON PRIME.