There are few settings more perfect than Somerset House to watch a film, and as you embrace the joy of sitting in the warm open air of July, laying out on a blanket staring at Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in the 2008 restored version of Billy Wilder’s 1960 classic The Apartment at Film4 Summer Screen, you soon realise that there aren’t many better ways to spend a summer evening.
Film aficionados out there will know that The Apartment was (and is) one of the finest examples of the rom-com genre, well before it was ruined by the likes of Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston. Unlike the cuddly Richard Curtis films of the 1990s and 2000s (which I will gladly admit to enjoying), The Apartment is a film with a dark edge to it.
Wilder’s film tells the story of office jockey C.C. Baxter (Lemmon) who, desperate for a leg up in the business world, loans his apartment to his numerous bosses so that they can carry out their extramarital affairs. In return they promise that Baxter will be sure to be put forward for that promotion. So far it sounds fairly standard material.
Enter stage left Miss Fran Lubleik (MacLaine) the elevator girl, who is having an affair with the top-boss Sheldrake, played in wonderfully callous style by Fred MacMurray. When Sheldrake breaks up with Fran she attempts suicide in Baxter’s apartment. Baxter nurses her back to health, falls for the girl and all manner of complications arise, including an amazing scene involving a tennis racket and some spaghetti.
It’s not just the element of suicide that makes The Apartment darker than most rom-coms; it’s also a bleak critique of men’s attitudes towards women, sex and marriage in the 1960s. There are also some great lines: Sheldrake turns to Baxter and states, “You know, you see a girl a couple of times a week, just for laughs, and right away they think you’re going to divorce your wife. Now I ask you, is that fair?” to which Baxter wittily replies “No, sir, it’s very unfair… especially to your wife”, all delivered pitch perfectly with that nervous laugh of Lemmon’s. It all serve to make this film worthy of every one of those five stars; so well written, made, delivered, cast and balanced. It is a comedy with heart and intelligence – you just don’t get that very often.