Hot on the heels of Some Like It Hot, another Billy Wilder classic comes to 4K UHD. The Apartment transfer may lack Dolby Vision/HDR, but it's still an Ultra HD triumph that brings newfound luster to this luminous comedy-drama about a hapless corporate ladder-climber who pines for the pert yet damaged elevator operator in his office building. A pitch-perfect script that tackles a number of potent themes, masterful direction, and impeccable performances from Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, and a stellar supporting cast combine to create one of the most deserving Best Picture winners in Hollywood history. The Apartment is sheer bliss from start to finish, and this 4K UHD edition appropriately honors this timeless classic. Must Own.
The transformation of a schnook into a mensch. In a nutshell, that's The Apartment, and in the hands of director Billy Wilder and his writing partner I.A.L. Diamond, it's one of the most rewarding and entertaining journeys in Hollywood history. A biting satire with a heart of solid gold, this Best Picture Oscar winner skewers corporate ladder-climbing, office and sexual politics, philandering executives, and sycophantic schmoozing all while exploring love's wrenching vagaries. The film may be six decades old, but the emotions it engenders and themes it explores remain both timeless and universal. Wilder made many iconic movies over the course of his 40-year directing career - Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, Witness for the Prosecution, Some Like It Hot, One, Two, Three - but The Apartment is without a doubt his crowning achievement.
The culmination of years of dabbling in different styles, The Apartment ties together all of Wilder's immense and varied talents - his lyrical, rhythmic writing style that mixes hilarious quips with innate truisms; his keen eye that economically captures the essence of an idea or emotion; his uncanny ability to make stereotypical characters unique; and most of all, his passion for depicting the multiple and endlessly fascinating facets of the human condition. Along with Some Like It Hot, The Apartment is also a prime example of how a rich, textured narrative can be built upon the simplest premise.
Some Like It Hot, though, is rooted in a single genre. What makes The Apartment even more impressive is Wilder's deft intertwining of comedy and drama, a deceptively tough task that's accomplished with such dexterity and grace, the shifts in tone feel utterly natural. Romantic, funny, and sweet one minute, cynical and searing the next, the film captures the elusive ebb and flow of life and its rollercoaster ups and downs while tapping a gamut of conflicting emotions.
Character driven and filled with the urban flavor of New York City (even though most of it was shot in Hollywood), The Apartment chronicles the lonely, melancholy existence of C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), an affable, insecure everyman who diligently toils in the vast office pool of a Manhattan insurance company. Baxter's all-consuming desire to get ahead leads him to lend his Upper West Side apartment to a few of his superiors on a rotating basis so they can shtup their respective mistresses-du-jour before going home to their suburban wives. The sleazy hook-ups often leave Baxter homeless for hours at a time (often in the rain and bitter cold) and annoy his neighbors, who believe Baxter is an amoral, drunken, promiscuous party boy with an endless string of casual lovers.
The stress of juggling the schedules of his horny bosses drives Baxter to distraction, but the racket pays off when one of the company's head honchos, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), agrees to promote Baxter...but only if he gets to use Baxter's apartment for his sexual exploits, too. Baxter agrees, but things get messy when he discovers Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), the pert, quirky elevator operator he secretly adores, is Sheldrake's illicit girlfriend. The revelation devastates Baxter, and Sheldrake's callous treatment of Fran pushes her to an emotional precipice.
On its surface, The Apartment resembles a romantic comedy, and it plays like one in its initial scenes, yet its dimensional characters almost instantly loft it above traditional romcoms. Lemmon, in one of his all-time best performances, connects with us on a visceral level, making us sympathize with Baxter's efforts to rise above the manipulations, humiliations, and soul-sapping loneliness he must endure in his effort to get ahead and rue the hard knocks that continually beat him down. Though he abhors the movers-and-shakers and arrogant pricks who take advantage of him, he longs with every fiber of his being to merit membership in their exclusive club and grasp in his hand their defining status symbol - the key to the executive washroom.
Fran, whose up-and-down emotions and yo-yo treatment by Sheldrake mirror her job as an elevator operator, wins our affection as well, and the perfectly cast MacLaine conveys her mercurial moods with a disarming naturalness. She, too, makes our hearts bleed with an array of facial expressions that say more about the feelings churning inside her than any lines Wilder and Diamond could write (although her astute observation "When you're in love with a married man, you shouldn't wear mascara" and thought-provoking query "Why do people have to love people anyway?" are bona fide classics). Her priceless chemistry with Lemmon adds zing to an already zesty film and would be successfully repeated under Wilder's tutelage three years later in Irma La Douce.
Wilder convinced MacMurray to play an unsavory insurance agent in Double Indemnity 16 years before, and after Paul Douglas died shortly before shooting began, convinced him to play another one in The Apartment. Though he never raises a hand to Fran, Sheldrake is even more despicable than Walter Neff, using words and deeds to quash her vivacious spirit and batter her soul. MacMurray marvelously embodies this slimy, supercilious, two-timing cad who believes power and success give him carte blanche to trample on others to satisfy his ego and libido. Much to his horror, MacMurray, who was also a big Disney star at the time, received substantial negative feedback from fans about portraying Sheldrake (which proves just how good his performance is), and as a result, he never played a bad guy again.
Wilder turned a hat trick at the 1961 Academy Awards, winning Oscars for Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay (the first person to do so). The Apartment also received honors for its art direction-set decoration and editing, and nabbed nominations for Best Actor and Actress, Cinematography, Sound, and the supporting performance of Jack Kruschen as Baxter's next-door neighbor, Dr. Dreyfuss, who performs a vital function at a critical point in the movie. Ray Walston, Edie Adams, and Hope Holiday also make notable impressions in colorful roles.
From its engaging opening to it's memorable last line ("Shut up and deal!"), The Apartment is pure magic. Laugh-out-loud funny, heartbreakingly sweet, and fiercely frank (no small feat with censorship still in effect), it celebrates the resilience of the human spirit in a corrupt, immoral world while painting a damning portrait of corporate America. The best movies stimulate on emotional, intellectual, and visceral levels, and with its dimensional characters, priceless script, relatable story, provocative themes, masterful direction, arresting black-and-white cinematography, and memorable score, The Apartment does just that. It's a film to cherish, and even after repeat viewings, it never gets old. Like fine wine, it gets better with age, and like a stiff martini, it leaves you with a euphoric high.
For another take on The Apartment, check out my former colleague Steven Cohen's review of the 2012 MGM Blu-ray release by clicking here.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
The Apartment arrives on 4K UHD packaged in a standard case inside a sleeve. A standard Blu-ray is also included. Video codec is 2160p/HEVC H.265 and default audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. (A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also included.) Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
After viewing Kino's glorious Some Like It Hot transfer with Dolby Vision HDR, I must admit to feeling somewhat deflated when I read The Apartment would not receive the same red carpet 4K UHD treatment. Well, any fears I might have harbored about inferior picture quality were almost instantly allayed once I laid eyes on The Apartment's arresting 2160p/HEVC H.265 transfer. It may lack Dolby Vision HDR, but it doesn't suffer one whit from the omission. Smooth, silky, yet incredibly film-like, this often breathtaking, highly detailed rendering instantly becomes the definitive presentation of this classic motion picture.
This looks to be the same restoration Arrow Films used for its 2017 Blu-ray release, but some additional clean-up seems to have been performed. The spotless image features beautifully resolved grain, crystalline clarity, and exceptional contrast, with rich blacks, bright yet stable whites, and a wide gray scale combining to create a picture that brims with depth. (The shot of Baxter alone in the cavernous office early in the film is especially impressive.) Joseph LaShelle's Oscar-nominated black-and-white cinematography is often dark and noir-like, but crush rarely creeps in, thanks to superior shadow delineation that allows us to absorb the atmosphere of dingy restaurants, darkened rooms, and dimly lit New York streets.
Fine details in wallpaper patterns, defects in tattered upholstery, scratches on the wood paneling in the hallway of Baxter's apartment building, the nubby texture of a bar phone booth, faint reflections in glass partitions, and the marble designs on the office lobby walls are all crisp, and razor-sharp close-ups highlight facial pores and stubble, glistening sweat, tears, false eyelashes, and running mascara. A couple of shots exhibit more noticeable grain and look a tad noisy, but that's the only defect in an otherwise bravura presentation that will dazzle Apartment aficionados and newbies alike.
This edition of The Apartment contains both the original mono track, presented here in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (the same track appeared on the 2017 Arrow Films Blu-ray release, albeit in LPCM mono), and a remixed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that debuted on the 2012 MGM Blu-ray. The mono track supplies clear, well-modulated sound that exhibits excellent fidelity and tonal depth. For optimal listening, I needed to raise my customary volume level a few notches, but despite the increase, no distortion crept into the mix. The lush, romantic music score sounds especially good and fills the room with ease, and all the priceless dialogue is well prioritized and easy to comprehend. Sonic accents like popping champagne corks, slaps, and the sound effects from the old western films playing on Baxter's TV are distinct, and subtle atmospherics like the New York cityscape and constant din buzzing through the cavernous office space nicely shade the action. No age-related hiss, pops, or crackle intrude either. If you're a purist and enjoy pairing classic films with their original audio tracks, you'll be delighted by this one.
Here's what my former HDD colleague Steven Cohen had to say in 2012 about the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track:
"Resisting the urge to spruce up the original mono elements too much, this is a respectful remix that does the film justice. Dialogue is clear and full throughout with no signs of crackle or hiss. The soundstage remains faithful to the movie's mono roots but has been opened up slightly in subtle but effective ways. Speech and other effects are occasionally spread out directionally when appropriate, and soft echoes of music and ambient sounds hit the rear speakers. The wonderful score comes through with nice fidelity demonstrating pleasing range with no distortion. Low end activity is minimal, but for a movie of this type that is to be expected. Balance between all of the audio elements is handled well. While I usually prefer for mono films to retain their original track, this 5.1 remix is so subtle and unobtrusive that I didn't mind it at all. With no major signs of age or distortion, this is a very solid track."
In addition to all the extras from the 2012 MGM Blu-ray (for a review of those supplements, click here), Kino adds a brand new audio commentary by Wilder biographer Joseph McBride. This is a fantastic track that's required listening for anyone who appreciates both Wilder's work in general and The Apartment in particular. Intelligent, insightful, informative, and presented in an easygoing, conversational manner, McBride's absorbing discussion covers a multitude of topics, including the story's social and cultural origins, other films that influenced The Apartment, the screenplay's structure, the edgy nature of many Wilder films, and the director's penchant for tackling touchy subjects. He also analyzes the characters and situations, examines the music score, looks at the difference between Wilder's partnerships with Charles Brackett and I.A.L. Diamond, talks about the importance of being a mensch in Wilder movies, and notes Wilder was the first man to win Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay Oscars for the same film. This is one of the few commentaries I've listened to that made me wish it could continue after the movie ends. It's that good. (McBride also supplied a stellar commentary for Kino's recent 4K UHD edition of Wilder's Some Like It Hot.)
The original theatrical trailer for The Apartment is also included, as well as several previews for other Wilder films.
Both the McBride commentary track and an older track by film historian Bruce Block can be accessed on both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray discs, but the previously released retrospective Apartment documentary, featurette on Jack Lemmon, and trailers are housed on the Blu-ray. All of these extras, with the exception of the new commentary track, also appear on Arrow Film's 2017 Blu-ray release. That edition contains a wealth of exclusive material as well, so despite the enhanced video quality of Kino's 4K UHD release, by all means hang on to your Arrow Films copy of The Apartment, if you own it.
Shut up and watch The Apartment in 4K UHD! Billy Wilder's masterpiece at last gets the Ultra HD treatment, and Kino's A/V presentation is just as sublime as the movie itself. Though it lacks Dolby Vision/HDR, the transfer outclasses any previous rendering by a wide margin and breathes even more life into this vital, visceral film. Previously released audio tracks and supplements, along with an all-new, essential commentary make this edition of The Apartment a slam-dunk upgrade that no admirer of this timeless comedy-drama should pass up. Must Own.