The Apartment

April 26, 2012 § 2 Comments

I watched The Apartment early on a rainy morning when I couldn’t fall back asleep. Raindrops were dripping off the trees outside, and as I watched the sun come up, the sky only lightened from black to a stormy gray. And that was the perfect atmosphere to be introduced to this movie: accentuating its moodiness, its melancholy, its theme of how we go through life bumping into people and bouncing off of them until we find somebody that sticks. It’ll always be a rainy day movie for me.

It’s a classic, so you probably know the plot, but on the off-chance you don’t: Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a bachelor aiming to climb the corporate ladder at the insurance company at which he works. Rather than stick to conventional ladder-climbing methods, Bud allows more senior executives to use his apartment when entertaining their mistresses. And it works–until he realizes that personnel director Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) is using it to woo Bud’s own object of affection, elevator attendant Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). That realization is that catalyst for Bud to reassess his priorities, unfolding in a way that’s strangely reminiscent of another movie about love triangles . . .

When I was a freshman in college, Almost Famous was one of my favorite movies. One of the things I loved most about it was its relatively unconventional–to me, at least–take on the characters’ relationships to each other, and how that led to plot turns you wouldn’t expect. I loved the idolatrous relationship between William and Penny that eventually evens out, the constantly shifting boundaries between Russell and William, the way that the audience–like Penny–is slowly seduced into believing that maybe Russell truly cares for her after all, making it that much more devastating when you’re all forced to confront the fact that he doesn’t. It all seemed new and fresh to me, a perfect balance of bittersweet. But while watching The Apartment, I kept thinking of how much it resembled Almost Famous, how the relationships and certain plot elements and the tone of the film itself seemed to have been lifted wholesale from Billy Wilder. And when I went online afterwards and looked it up, I learned that that was no coincidence: The Apartment is one of Almost Famous director Cameron Crowe’s favorite movies.

This is my favorite part of watching old movies. To see something made half a century ago that set the mold for things I later grew to love, to be able to independently draw connections between two works, to broaden the way I thought the world had worked–it’s the best feeling.

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