The Saratoga Film Forum’s “Countdown to Oscar” Monday night series of past Best Picture winners continues on February 20th, with Billy Wilder’s 1960 film The Apartment, starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine (in a past life), and Fred MacMurray.
The Apartment, a wry comedy-drama, was nominated for 10 Oscars at the 1961 Academy Awards, and ultimately won five of them: Best Picture, Best Director (Billy Wilder), Best Original Screenplay (I.A.L. Diamond and Billy Wilder), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Black and White) (Edward G. Boyle and Alexandre Trauner), and Best Editing (Daniel Mandell). While Jack Lemmon disappointingly lost out to Burt Lancaster (for Elmer Gantry), when Kevin Spacey won Best Actor in 2000 for American Beauty, he dedicated his award to Lemmon’s performance in The Apartment.
Here’s a piece of film trivia: The Apartment was the last all-black-and-white film to win a Best Picture Academy Award. (Schindler’s List, which won in 1994, had some color scenes.)
Although it was a hit both critically and commercially, the subject matter of The Apartment—Lemmon’s character lets his managers at the insurance company for which he works use his apartment for their extramarital trysts—was considered fairly controversial at the time, with the Saturday Review deeming it “a dirty fairy tale.” It was even more unacceptable 15 years earlier when Wilder first conceived the basic premise, wanting to do an American version of David Lean’s 1945 UK film Brief Encounter (written by Noel Coward), in which married Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) has an affair with doctor Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) in a friend’s apartment. However, the Hays Office at the time—which enforced the Motion Picture Production Code—would not allow anyone to make a film about adultery in the 1940s.
Here’s another bit of film trivia: what other movie opened the same weekend in 1960 as The Apartment? Hitchcock’s Psycho. Those were the days!