The German émigré screenwriter Billy Wilder scored a success when he began to write screenplays in Hollywood in the late 1930s, and the library has screened a number of the films he wrote, including Midnight, Ninotchka, and Ball of Fire. His first directing effort in the U.S. was in 1942. His first nomination for a best director Oscar was in 1945 for Double Indemnity, and he won the Oscar for best director in 1946 for Lost Weekend.
By the 1950s films written and directed by Wilder were something of a Hollywood institution and pretty good box office. He was nominated for, or won Oscars, in one or both categories for Sunset Boulevard in 1951, Ace in the Hole in 1952, Stalag 17 in 1954, Sabrina in 1955, Witness for the Prosecution in 1956, and Some Like It Hot in 1959. An undertone of cynicism runs through his films, sometimes swamping any positive outlook at all. The Apartment has serious concerns, above and beyond the usual plot twists a comedy displays. It’s difficult to think of it as a romance, or a comedy, though both these elements play a major role in its construction, and especially in the central performances of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.
The film was written by Wilder with I.A.L. Diamond, who had begun a long-time collaboration with Wilder with their previous film, Some Like It Hot. It was released in June, 1960. Alexandre Trauner won an Oscar for best art direction, Wilder won the best director Oscar, Daniel Mandell won an Oscar for best film editing, Wilder and Diamond won an Oscar for best writing story and screenplay, and the film won best picture. Lemmon was nominated for best actor, MacLaine for best actress, Jack Kruschen (who plays the doctor) was nominated for best supporting actor, Joseph LaShelle was nominated for best cinematography, and Gordon Sawyer was nominated for best sound. The Apartment was the last black and white movie to win best picture, before Schindler’s List in 1994. 1994 also happened to be the year that the Library of Congress selected The Apartment to go on the National Film Registry of films worthy of preservation.
Roger Ebert, in 2001, wrote “The screenplay, executed as a precise balance between farce and sadness, has been constructed by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond to demonstrate that while Baxter and Miss Kubelik may indeed like each other--may feel genuine feelings of the sort that lead to true love--they are both slaves to the company's value system. He wants to be the boss' assistant, she wants to be the boss' wife, and both of them are so blinded by the concept of 'boss' that they can't see Mr. Sheldrake for an untrustworthy rat.” He described this film as the place where Lemmon “moved from light comedian to tragic everyman.” About Shirley MacLaine’s performance, he wrote “it suggests a young woman who has been lied to before, who has a good heart but finite patience, who is prepared to make the necessary compromises to be the next Mrs. Sheldrake. The underlying seriousness of MacLaine's performance helps anchor the picture.” I hope you enjoy watching The Apartment tonight.