Arrow Academy has released the 1960 romantic drama/comedy The Apartment, in a limited edition Blu-ray. Should you run right out and buy a copy or is it only worth a rental? Read on to find out!
Writer/Director Billy Wilder is known for his snappy dialog and rich characterizations. He is responsible for some of the greatest black and white Hollywood movies of all time: Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole, Stalag 17, The Seven Year Itch, The Spirit of St. Louis, Witness for the Prosecution, and Some Like it Hot.
The Apartment is no different and belongs right in that illustrious list. Wilder along with his co-writer I.A.L. Diamond won an Oscar for their work on the film. Filmmakers from Spielberg to David Lynch have been influenced by his art. What makes his movies so special? I think some of it has to do with Wilder’s view of playing to the crowd rather than making a film for a niche audience. He made movies that he would have liked to go see at the cinema and always asked if what he was writing could be more interesting. He was quoted often as saying “Don’t bore people”.
Wilder seemed to not regard critics very highly, at least in general. His movies weren’t stupid, but they also weren’t really considered high art. Today we might call that a “popcorn film”. While his films didn’t have extravagant budgets I think his way of writing and directing were sort of a precursor to summer comedy blockbusters way back before there were such things. Wilder’s films, in general, have a warm and gentle aura running through them (even his cynical characters seemed to have a heart). With the New Wave that swept through cinema in the decades following, I think the average modern audience has forgotten about Billy Wilder and his fun movies. I’m happy to report that The Apartment is the perfect entry level into rediscovering that world of great Hollywood black and white film.
The Apartment stars Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter. I think Jack is great in every role he plays, but these early Wilder films really got his name in the public eye. C.C. Baxter works at an insurance company, but he is in a pretty low position and wants to move up the corporate ladder. Unfortunately, he isn’t getting noticed. So to make his name stand out from the rest he decides to rent out his apartment to executives of the company.
The rotating list of executives use his apartment for their own “personal affairs”. Baxter hopes that in encouraging their extramarital carnal lusts in his own home they will put in a good word to the personnel director. And the director does hear about it. Does C.C. Baxter rise in the ranks at his company? Or does he get an altogether different kind of response? How is his life changed by trying to get ahead in the business world? To find out you’ll just have to watch the film.
The Apartment has a recognizable cast in addition to Jack Lemmon. Shirley MacLaine is great as Fran, the wonderful Fred MacMurray stars as Jeff Sheldrake, and Ray Walston turns in a performance only he could do as Joe. This was the last black and white film to win the Best Picture Oscar until 2011’s The Artist. Personally, I count 1993’s Schindler’s List but apparently, it is technically counted by the Academy as a color film because of a couple scenes.
The Apartment runs for 125 minutes but the story never seems to drag and it moves at the right pace. It never really seems like an old film either to me, as the story elements and character motivations don’t seem outdated. It’s a bit like Mad Men but made back during that time rather than being a period piece. The film has a great balance of comedy and drama. The dialog is top notch and funny but not too overly scripted and unrealistic. It almost has a magical quality to the banter between characters. I think it’s a film full of memorable moments that will make you want to come back and experience it again with another watch.
I never owned the old MGM Blu-ray that came out in 2012. However in looking at screenshot comparisons of the old release there is a night and day difference. Arrow once again shows why it is one of the few at the top of the class in restorations. The book included in this release has this to say about the transfer:
The Apartment was exclusively restored by Arrow Films and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with the original mono soundtrack and a 5.1 mix.
The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director Scanner at EFilm, Burbank. Upon inspection it was discovered that several sections in the original negative had been removed and replaced with a duplicate negative element, resulting in a noticeable shift in quality. These substitutions were not limited to the optical sections, which would have been standard lab practice at the time. Although lab documentation could not be found, these substitutions were likely performed prior to the film’s original release, as all subsequent intermediary film elements also exhibit these changes. The trims from the original negative could not be found as these were likely discarded long ago, but a separate 35mm fine grain positive was sourced and compared against the duplicate negative element for these sections. In each of these instances the best source element was selected to ensure the highest quality presentation possible.
The film was graded on the Nucoda grading system at R3store Studios, London. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches were repaired or removed through a combination of digital restoration tools and techniques. Instances of picture instability, warped sections and damaged frames were also improved.
The original mono soundtrack and 5.1 mix were produced by MGM.
- Audio Commentary with author/producer Bruce Block – Block is an expert at visual story telling techniques and this commentary is a great source of information in the stylistic choices in the film. This commentary is very interesting for fans who like in depth breakdowns of film making. I recommend a listen.
- The Key to the Apartment – a 10-minute interview with critic Philip Kemp on what makes this film so special and how it works with the audience.
- Scene Commentary – Kemp also has audio commentary for select scenes in the film.
- The Flawed Couple – 20-minute video essay by British journalist David Cairns with an overview of the Lemmon/Wilder productions.
- A Letter to Castro – 13-minute interview from 2017 with actress Hope Holiday.
- An Informal Conversation with Billy Wilder – 23-minute archival interview with the writer/director.
- Inside the Apartment – 29-minute archival interviews with cast and Robert Osborne.
- Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon – 13-minute archival look at Jack Lemmon and an interview with his son Chris.
- Restoration Showreel and Theatrical Trailer
- 148-page Hardcover book including essays and photos.
The Apartment Final Thoughts:
The Apartment is a wonderfully funny comedy and expertly dramatic film that seems to hit all the right tones while switching between the genres. Any fan of old Hollywood needs to have this version in their collection, even if they already own the film. The improvements to the picture quality, the nice hardcover book, as well as the massive amounts of special features, make this the definitive release of a 60’s classic. I highly recommend buying a copy for yourself today. You can purchase yours at Amazon or a retailer of your choice.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgment or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.