The Apartment


The Apartment

Written by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond

Edited by Susan E. Morse & Ralph Rosenblum

Photographed by Joseph LaShelle

Music by Adolph Deutsch

Produced by Billy Wilder

Directed by Billy Wilder




Jack Lemmon

Shirley MacLaine

Fred MacMurray

Ray Wlaston

Jack Kuruschen

David Lewis

Edie Adams



Theatrical: The Mirisch Corporation

Video: MGM



Aspect ratio: 2.34:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: 40 GB

Feature Size: 36 GB

Bit Rate: Moderate~High (30-35 Mbps)

Runtime: 125 minutes

Chapters: 24



English DTS HD-MA 5.1

French Dolby Digital 2.0 [Dub]

Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 [Dub]

English Dolby Digital 2.0 [Commentary]



Optional English SDH, French & Spanish



Audio Commentary by Film Historian Bruce Block

“Inside The Apartment” (29:35)

Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon (12:45)



Amaray Blu-ray case: BRD x 1

Street Date: January 24, 2012


In one swell foop on January 24 MGM has made what feels like a 100% increase in the catalogue of classic films for home high definition theatre: Rebecca (1940), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), The Apartment (1960), Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979) - and all but one are in B&W.  Three are top drawer films from Alfred Hitchcock’s early American period, and one is the very popular, Oscar-winning Billy Wilder film The Apartment (1960).


The Movie: 10

For 33 years, until Schindler’s List in 1993, The Apartment remained the last Black & White movie to win the Best Picture Oscar - not that there weren’t solid B&W American entries in the meantime (along with numerous European and Japanese films): Manhattan, Raging Bull, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Elephant Man, to name just a few).  Critics and film aficionados love Black & White.  It is not only the medium in which photography was born (as was drawing, for that matter), but it remains the language of the pure art.  All the same, with the arrival of color in the late 1930s, audiences wanted more.  The second great war put this madness on hold for a good part of the decade, but color came back with a vengeance in the 50s, especially for musicals and comedies.



So it came as a mild surprise in 1960 that a super-widescreen movie billed as a comedy would be shot in anything other than color – this despite the fact that Billy Wilder tended to prefer black & white to color generally (until The Fortune Cookie in 1966, after which all his films would be in color.)


Well, audiences were in for a surprise in a number of ways.  For one thing, despite the way the movie was marketed – and the way most people still think of it today, sort of like the way they think of It’s a Wonderful LifeThe Apartment is not really a comedy, though it has many funny bits.  This is a story with a serious suicide attempt at its center.  Yes, there’s a light touch, but that’s just Wilder’s way of sneaking up on his audience.  And speaking of sneaks, what about Fred MacMurray’s character?  If his scenes with Shirley MacLaine don’t clench a few fists then you need to cut back on your anti-depressants.  Come to think of it, like It’s a Wonderful Life, The Apartment contains enough bitterness to wilt an unripe persimmon.



Lemmon is C.C. Baxter, a low level employee at a large Manhattan insurance company.  Innocently, if naively, Baxter has been loaning out the key to his apartment to middle-management types who, along with promises of a promotion, use his place for a quickie on their way home to the missus.  Personnel manager Jeff Sheldrake (MacMurray) gets wind of Baxter’s key being passed about the office, and he wants in.  Unknown to Baxter, Sheldrake has been having an affair for quite some while with the popular, but private (can you be both in an office building?) elevator girl, Fran (MacLaine), the secret apple of Baxter’s eye, whom he always calls “Miss Kubelik.”  Fran wants to break it off with Sheldrake, seeing that this is going nowhere and it is just beginning to dawn on her that she is being used. But Sheldrake is persistent and persuasive.  Baxter comes home one night to find her half-dead, sprawled out on his bed.



Image: 9/9

I had thought that the DVD Collector’s Edition looked quite good, but the Blu-ray is clearly a step up.  While there are still a few scenes, such as the opening master shot of Lemmon’s office, that continues to look more indistinct than we would expect, for the most part the image quality is sharp, well-resolved, and dense.  Blacks are inky, at times verging on gobbling up the scene, consistent with its dark subject matter.  I would not be surprised that a certain amount of digital noise reduction has been judiciously applied, for there is a smart gloss to the image and virtually no noise – though the increase in black level could accomplish this as well.  In brighter scenes, the whites are never blown out and grayscale is beautifully preserved.



Audio & Music: 6/8

For reasons passing understanding, MGM decided to include only a lossless version of the 5.1 mix they used for their most recent DVD.  The DVD bothered to include the original mono; the Blu-ray doesn’t.  MGM had the good sense to not only bring on the original mono for the other five classic films they released this date, but in a lossless format to boot.  Not so here.  Forshame!


It’s not like 5.1 gets them very far to begin with.  The office party is perhaps the best use of surround here, but why futz with nature, I ask? To be fair, I should also ask if going to 5.1 has any deleterious effect – the answer is: yes, but few will notice, or care.  The result in this case is a lightening of the voice, as if chest support is on vacation.  Most listeners will think that the increase in dialogue clarity is entirely due to the DTS HD-MA, but the truth is that not a little comes from remixing and dividing. Much the same holds true for the music, which, while it seems to benefit from the extra space, makes little sense as a recording of an orchestra.  Unlike many of today’s orchestra scores, music was rarely used for effect or texture, but rather for mood, which is disrupted to a degree in 5.1.  Alas, there’s nothing we can do about it on this disc.



Extras: 6

All of the bonus features (the commentary and the two featurettes) from the previous DVD have been imported onto the Blu-ray.  Standard definition still holds, as is usually the case in such circumstances.  Bruce Block’s commentary was new for the Collector’s Edition of the DVD.  His is a good listen (which I do without the projector running to save bulb time).  Among other things, he talks about Wilder a good deal, which is especially nice here since there is no other featurette devoted to this genius behind the silver screen. Like Joseph Conrad, English is not only a language Wilder learned as an adult, but the language for which he is most known as a writer.  We have Hitler to thank for Wilder’s coming to America when he did, as well as for wiping out half his family at Auschwitz, a fact that is hardly evident in the man who gave us Some Like It Hot and Sabrina.



Recommendation: 9

There are a handful of movies I watch over and over, not to gain any new insights but to visit with an old friend.  Casablanca is one.  The Philadelphia Story another. Lately, Shakespeare in Love seems to be nudging its way into this sanctorum.  The Apartment, which won for Billy Wilder Oscar honors for Best Picture, Director, and Writing, is probably the first movie that I found myself watching every couple of years – whether I need to or not, as I like to tell myself.  The new Blu-ray transfer is superb, even if the audio ignores the original conception.  Warmly recommended.


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

January 31, 2012



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