The Apartment (Mirisch; United Artists) is the funniest movie made in Hollywood since Some Like It Hot (TIME, March 23, 1959). What's more, it was made by the same two men, Producer-Director Billy Wilder and Writer I.A.L. Diamond, who made that uproarious travesty of transvestitism, and it features the same deft comedian. Jack Lemmon. There the similarities end. The earlier film was a Mack Sennett farce with boys for bathing beauties. Apartment is a comedy of men's-room humours and water-cooler politics that now and then among the belly laughs says something serious and sad about the struggle for success, about what it often does to a man, and about the horribly small world of big business.
The comedy turns on a redoubtable ironic notion: the rise of an organization man is presented as a sort of rogue's progress. The hero (Lemmon) is just another night-school diploma in the personnel files of a big insurance company until the fateful day when it dawns on him that if his own virtues are not enough, other people's vices might help. He lends his apartment to a department head who is having an affair with a telephone operator. Soon he is slipping his key to four philandering executives, and though he gets awfully tired of sitting in the park all evening, keymanship has its compensations. The hero's superiors write glowing reports on his work, and the reports soon come to the attention of the big boss (Fred MacMurray) himself. "Baxter," he confides to the hero, "as far as I'm concerned, you're executive material"he wants the key too. Before long the hero is an assistant to the boss. Sud denly he discovers that he has outsmarted himself: the girl (Shirley MacLaine) that the boss takes to his apartment is the girl of his dreams, the girl he cannot enjoy his illgot gains without.
The point is keenly ironic, and many moviegoers will wish that Wilder and Diamond had lingered longer to drive it home. But they skip along like a couple of mischievous kids, serious about nothing but fun, much too shrewd to lecture the grownupsthey might cut off a fellow's allowance. Indeed, Director Wilder in this picture establishes himself as one of the cinema's most skillful creators of comedy, low, medium or high. There is a great bit of buffoonery in which the bachelor hero uses a tennis racket as a spaghetti strainer. There is a piece of business in which the heroine, when asked how many affairs she has had, admits to three but unconsciously lifts four fingers. And there is a telephone conversation between Lover Mac-Murray and Mistress MacLaine (she has tried to commit suicide, and he couldn't care less about her conditionor more about the possible scandal) that makes a rarely profound and ignoble vignette.
Director Wilder handles his players superbly. He holds an amazingly tight rein on Actress MacLaine, which gives her performance a solidity she seldom achieves. Yet it is Actor Lemmon, surely the most sensitive and tasteful young comedian now at work in Hollywood, who really cuts the mustard and carries the show.