Release Date(s)1960 (December 26, 2017)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM/20th Century Fox (Arrow Academy)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
Over the course of Billy Wilder’s nearly 60-year career as a director, he made a number of films that are now regarded as classics, including The Spirit of St. Louis, Some Like it Hot, The Seven Year Itch, Double Indemnity, and Ace in the Hole, among many others. However, one film in particular seemed to be tailor-made for his off center yet still amicable approach to filmmaking while simultaneously suited for one of comedy’s finest leading performances. Released in 1960, The Apartment stars Jack Lemmon as the put upon but lovable Bud, a loyal cog in an insurance firm’s machinery who finds himself having to secretly lend his apartment to various higher ups for non-marital extracurricular activities with nosy neighbors assuming Bud to be a playboy of sorts. Amidst the chaos in his life, he unwittingly lands in the middle of a love triangle between his boss (Fred MacMurray) and an adorable elevator operator (Shirley MacLaine), only to be incessantly regarded and disregarded with little to no abandon.
Although it wasn’t as universally accepted critically at the time of its release as it is now, The Apartment is one of the finest comedy films ever made. Besides Jack Lemmon’s marvelous performance as a lower level schlub just trying to do the right thing but always finding himself in hectic circumstances, there’s also Shirley MacLaine, who one would be hard-pressed not to fall head over heels in love with. Her performance as a young woman driven to depression because of her ties to Bud’s boss and eventually realizing Bud’s affection for her over many games of gin rummy is ripe with pathos. “Shut up and deal” indeed. The film’s look was also not taken for granted as Billy Wilder, his cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, and his art director Alexandre Trauner gave the film a vast amount of artistic appeal as well. Visually, the film is a masterpiece, including the force perspective shots at the insurance firm which fully demonstrate Bud’s place in his lonely and immaterial world.
Speaking of the film’s look, Arrow Academy’s Blu-ray release of The Apartment is bound to be its definitive release on the format. The booklet that’s been included informs us that a 4K restoration was undertaken of the original 35mm camera negative. For some bizarre reason, various sections of the negative had been removed and replaced with a less than superior duplicate. For these sections, a separate 35mm fine grain positive element was used to complete the restoration. Also noted here, as well as in the Restoration Showreel included in the supplements, is that much of the damage and debris found on these film elements was repaired digitally, which is a step up over the previous Blu-ray release already. The differences in quality between the negative and the print are more prominent in certain scenes that others, but each section flows well into one another, leaving very little room for complaint. Grain levels are well-resolved with a high amount of fine detail, especially in shadows and close-ups. Contrast and brightness levels are handled well and there are no noticeable leftover instances of damage or encoding anomalies. Black levels are deep while grayscale is virtually perfect, making this a gorgeous black and white presentation. The audio is presented with two tracks: the original English mono LPCM and MGM’s English 5.1 DTS-HD “remix” with optional subtitles in English SDH. The 5.1 track is a front-heavy presentation with few instances of surround activity, which I found to be mostly useless. The mono track is the more preferable option with clean dialogue, excellent use of sound effects, and a well-represented score, courtesy of Adolph Deutsch (and Charles Williams, for you sticklers). It’s more representative of the film as a whole, which I personally feel didn’t need a 5.1 presentation in the first place.
This release also sports a bountiful amount of extra material to cull through. Things begin with the carried-over but quite good audio commentary featuring film historian Bruce Block; The Key to The Apartment, a new 10-minute appreciation of the film by film historian Philip Kemp; Kemp discussing two of the film’s key scenes via additional audio commentary; The Flawed Couple, a new 20-muinute essay on the film by filmmaker David Cairns; A Letter to Castro, a new 13-minute interview with actress Hope Holiday; An Informal Conversation with Billy Wilder, a 23-minute archival interview with Wilder from the Writers Guild Foundation’s Oral Histories series, partially narrated by Jack Lemmon; the aforementioned Restoration Showreel; the original theatrical trailer presented in HD; two archival featurettes: Inside the Apartment, a 30-minute making-of from 2007, and Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon, a 13-minute profile on the actor, also from 2007; the film’s original screenplay in PDF form via BD-ROM; and last but certainly not least, “The Apartment: Selected Writings”, a 150-page hardcover booklet with the essays “Sweet and Sour: The Greatness of Billy Wilder’s The Apartment” by Neil Sinyard, “Broken Mirrors: Illusion and Disillusion in Billy Wilder’s ‘Diamond’ Comedies’” by Kat Ellinger, and “‘Shut Up and Deal’: The Changing Candor of 1960s Hollywood Cinema... Morality-Wise” by Travis Crawford and Heather Hyche, as well as restoration details. All of this material is housed in handsome and sturdy cardboard packaging, complete with new artwork.
Almost sixty years since its release, The Apartment still feels as fresh and irreverent as ever. The setting is certainly dated, but its amusing and romantic nature have never waned. It was nominated for many Academy Awards, winning for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Art Direction (as well as additional BAFTA wins for Jack Lemmon or Shirley MacLaine). It also managed to do double its business at the box office as well. It’s certainly a film with legs that continues age beautifully. Arrow Academy’s release is the finest home video option of the film available and is highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons