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The Apartment is a American comedy-drama film produced and directed by Billy Wilder, and starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray. It was Wilder's follow up to the enormously popular Some Like It Hot and was an equal commercial and critical hit, grossing $25 million at the box office. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and won five, including Best Picture.

It was later adapted by Neil Simon, Burt Bacharach and Hal David into the Broadway musicalmarker Promises, Promises.


C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a lonely office drone for an insurance company in New York Citymarker. Four different company managers take turns commandeering Baxter's apartment, which is located on West 67th Street on the Upper West Sidemarker, for their various extramarital liaisons. Unhappy with the situation, but unwilling to challenge them directly, he juggles their conflicting demands while hoping to catch the eye of fetching elevator operator Miss Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). Meanwhile the neighbors in the apartment building, a medical doctor and his wife, assume Baxter is a "good time Charlie" who gets a different woman drunk every night. Baxter accepts their criticism rather than reveal the truth.

The four managers write glowing reports about Baxter — a little too glowing, so personnel director Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) suspects something illicit behind the praise. Mr. Sheldrake lets Baxter's promotion go unchallenged on condition that Baxter's apartment accept him as the sole customer. Still delighted about his promotion, Baxter asks Miss Kubelik to The Music Man. She agrees, then stands him up. Later, on Christmas Eve, Baxter is astounded to come home and find her in his bed, fully clothed, and overdosed on sleeping pills. Mr. Sheldrake had borrowed Baxter's apartment for the evening and evidently left Miss Kubelik there.

Baxter and his neighbour the doctor keep Miss Kubelik alive and safe without notifying the authorities. She explains that she had an affair with Mr. Sheldrake the previous summer, ended it when his wife returned from vacation, and caved in to his appeals and promises later in the fall. When Sheldrake offered her money instead of a Christmas present she realized the ugliness of the situation and tried to commit suicide. The act shows a startling side of her usually sunny personality. Baxter tries to comfort her with assurances of Sheldrake's concern, but she refuses to speak to him on the telephone.

Kubelik recuperates in Baxter's apartment for two days, long enough for her taxi driver brother-in-law to assume the worst of Baxter and come to blows. Sheldrake's catty secretary, one of his former mistresses, finally "educates" Mrs. Sheldrake about her husband's infidelities. Faced with divorce, Sheldrake moves into a room at his athletic club and continues to string Kubelik along while he enjoys his newfound bachelorhood. Baxter finally takes a stand when Sheldrake demands the apartment for New Year's Eve, which results in Baxter quitting the firm. Kubelik realizes that Baxter is the man who truly loves her, and she leaves Sheldrake on New Year's Eve to be with Baxter that evening and runs to him. They end as two misfits, both out of a job, playing a game of gin rummy. When Baxter declares his love for Kubelik, her reply is the now-famous final line of the movie: "Shut up and deal."


Immediately following the success of Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond wished to make another film with Jack Lemmon. Wilder had originally planned to cast Paul Douglas as Jeff Sheldrake, however after he died unexpectedly Fred MacMurray was cast.

The initial concept for the film came from Brief Encounter by Noel Coward, in which the main character used a friend's apartment to meet with a married woman. However, due to the Hays Production Code, Wilder was unable to make a film about adultery in the 1940s. Wilder and Diamond also based the film partially on a Hollywood scandal in which high-powered agent Jennings Lang was shot by producer Walter Wanger for having an affair with Wanger's wife, actress Joan Bennett. During the affair, Lang used a low-level employee's apartment. Another element of the plot was based on the experience of one of Diamond's friends who returned home after breaking up with his girlfriend to find that she had committed suicide in his bed.

Although Wilder generally required his actors to adhere exactly to the script, he allowed Jack Lemmon to improvise in two scenes: in one scene he squirted a bottle of nose drops across the room and in another he sang while making a meal of spaghetti. In another scene where Lemmon was supposed to mime being punched, he failed to move correctly and was accidentally knocked down. Wilder chose to use the shot of the genuine punch in the film. He also caught a cold when one scene on a park bench was filmed in sub-zero weather.

Art director Alexandre Trauner used forced perspective to create the set of a large insurance company office. The set appeared to be a long room full of desks and workers; however, successively smaller people and desks were placed to the back of the room ending up with dwarfs. He designed the set of Baxter's apartment to appear smaller and shabbier than the spacious apartments that usually appeared in films of the day. He used items from thrift stores and even some of Wilder's own furniture for the set.



Due to its themes of infidelity and adultery, the film was controversial for its time. It initially received some negative reviews for its content. Film critic Hollis Alpert of the Saturday Review called it "a dirty fairy tale". According to Fred MacMurray, after the film's release he was accosted by a strange woman in the street who berated him for making a "dirty filthy movie" and hit him with her purse.


Academy Awards



Although Jack Lemmon did not win, at the 2000 Awards, Kevin Spacey dedicated his Oscar for American Beauty to Lemmon's performance. According to the behind-the-scenes feature on the American Beauty DVD, the film's director, Sam Mendes, had watched The Apartment (among other classic American movies) as inspiration in preparation for shooting his film.

Other awards and honors

The Apartment also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film from any Source and Lemmon and MacLaine both won a BAFTA and a Golden Globe each for their performances. The film appears at #93 on the influential American Film Institute list of Top 100 Films, as well as at #20 on their list of100 Laughs and at #62 on their 100 Passions list. In 2007, the film rose on the AFI's Top 100 list to #80. In 1994, The Apartment was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congressmarker and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Currently the film is ranked 55th on They Shoot Pictures Don't They's poll of the '1000 Greatest Films of All-Time', as voted by 1,604 critics, filmmakers, reviewers, scholars and other likely film types. In 2002, a poll of film directors done by Sight and Sound magazine listed it as the 14th greatest film of all time (tied with La Dolce Vita). In 2006, Premiere voted this film as one of "The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time".

The Apartment was the last film shot entirely in black-and-white to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. 1993's Schindler's List was shot primarily in black-and-white, but contained color sequences. All other Best Picture winners since The Apartment are either entirely or primarily in color.

American Film Institute recognition

See also


  1. Billy Wilder Interviews: (Conversations With Filmmakers Series)
  2. Chandler, Charlotte. Nobody's perfect: Billy Wilder : a personal biography.
  3. Fuller, Graham. An Undervalued American Classic. New York Times.
  4. BFI | Sight & Sound | Top Ten Poll 2002 - The rest of the directors' list

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