Archive for Billy Wilder

THE APARTMENT (1960)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2016 by cdascher

apartIn general, I am not a fan of rom-coms, though there are a few – usually of the Ten Things I Hate About You/Better Off Dead/Can’t Hardly Wait ilk that I will enjoy at least marginally. I certainly don’t watch a lot of rom-coms in black and white. I was, however, pleasantly surprised with our most recent Oscar winner The Apartment (1960), featuring Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon.

The film tells the bleak tale of C.C. Baxter (Lemmon), a lonely bachelor who lends out his apartment to a number of higher-ranking men at his work to help facilitate their extra-marital affairs. They dismissively refer to him as “Buddy Boy,” and he is often left in the rain or sleeping on a park bench while they are posted up in his abode. He continues in this arrangement in the hopes – which they fuel – of moving up the corporate ladder. Instantly though, I felt humiliated for him at the entire prospect. To make matters worse, the head of personnel, Mr. Sheldrake, learns of the setup and offers to make the career advancement an immediate reality but only if he can also get in on Baxter’s apartment borrowing.

A bright spot in Baxter’s days comes in the form of interactions with Fran Kubelik (MacLaine), a beautiful and independent elevator operator. The other men joke that no one has been successful with her romantically, wondering at it. In a few exchanges, we see a genuine rapport between Baxter and Kubelik. He eventually even works up the nerve to ask her on a date. She demurs, telling him she has plans to meet up with another man, but then agrees to meet him after. To our horror, we realize soon she is meeting up with Sheldrake, with whom she had previously been having an extramarital affair. Worse still, Sheldrake lays it on thick, promising to leave his wife for her. She ends up standing Baxter up, and going back to Baxter’s apartment (unbeknownst to her) with Sheldrake. In the scene where we see Baxter waiting alone at the theater for her, there is a heavy sadness. I found myself just yelping, “no, no!” I think this gloom and pitiful irony was what made this film more engaging to me than a run-of-the-mill flowers-and-sunshine rom-com.

A lot of things come together to make The Apartment work, but the keystone is Jack Lemmon as the hapless and slightly dorky optimist Baxter. There is a pitch perfect blend of pathos and humor to Baxter that makes him the ideal stand-in for anyone who has ever found themselves the third wheel, or realized they’d moved just a little too late on the one they were falling for; not that I would know anything about that. He is so earnest in trying to get ahead at work and pursuing a gentlemanly romance. We just watch him, waiting for the world to grind him down. But he has a resilience that wouldn’t let me stop pulling for him. Continue reading

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THE LOST WEEKEND (1945)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2013 by katyotto

The Lost WeekendThe Lost Weekend had me gnashing my teeth simply because it was such an adept, uncomfortable depiction of alcoholism. Walking with Don Birnam (lead character) throughout his day as he makes bad choice after bad choice allows us as viewers to slip into his quiet desperation, a desperation that is given more voice as his resources become slim. It becomes apparent quickly that Don’s worst enemy is himself, and his weekend-long binge serves as a summation for the past six years of his life. I tried to think of other movies I have seen that have so strictly focused on the pain of alcohol addiction, particularly through the lens of one individual, and I couldn’t think of another quite like this. The story line does not cut away from Don – thus we are offered no respite, and must go to sleep and wake up with the albatross around his neck.

Have you noticed that all of our movies so far have featured scenes with drinking? We may have figured out the secret to an Oscar winner. Drinking isn’t featured in the plot this time; it is the plot. This is a character study of a very sick man, maybe the first such portrayal. The only previous films I could find that specifically address addiction were preposterous cautionary films about illicit drugs like Reefer Madness. The Lost Weekend provides a much more sensitive and realistic portrayal. I can think of alcoholism (or what we now call alcoholism) being presented as a sociological problem or as a shortcoming of character much earlier, but at what point did it come to be regarded as an illness? My guess would be that the development of this view coincided with the growing practice of psychology. If so, the time would be just right in 1945 for a film depicting this infirmity. Indeed, at a certain point, the film’s action moves to a mental hospital.

It’s difficult to watch, to say the least. As a person who is herself just cresting the five-year sobriety mark, seeing an honest depiction of alcohol abuse can feel like a punch in the gut. I couldn’t look away, though, because this film almost gets it right. The havoc that addiction wreaks on relationships is crystal clear in our protagonist’s life – both with his girlfriend Continue reading