August 2, 2021

The props in Billy Wilder’s Apartment

‘Apartment’ (1960) by Billy Wilder is one of my fetish movies. Perhaps because I am closer to that generation that yearns for the great American comedies of yesteryear. The truth is that a few years ago I had the pleasure of being able to see it in its original version on the big screen of the wonderful and endearing Little Cinema Studio in Madrid. ‘The apartment’, with its impeccable black and white, its fantastic decorations in its bland everyday life and its perfect dialogues, is without a doubt one of the most important titles in American cinema and for whom I feel true adoration.

Is it a love movie or is it a melodramatic comedy? It is indifferent because the most important thing here are the characters, Baxter and Fran or, which is the same, Jack Lemmon Y Shirley MacLaine, perfect in their incarnation of middle-class Americans. As nameless individuals in the middle of a mass, Lemmon lands one of his best roles, and MacLaine manages to thrill. But Fran and Baxter are more surrounded by things than people.

The scenery, specifically the objects (in slang prop), they are fundamental in this movie. For Baxter, the telephone, the calculator o go kleenex they are elements that provide supplementary information to your character. The telephone is the instrument for arranging your rental commitments; Kleenex tells us that Baxter spends many hours on the cold, inhospitable and dirty streets of New York; the calculating machine is the representation of the life of Baxter, obsessed by the statistics that dominate his professional horizon.

But the objects in the house are also important. The TV, the only possible interlocutor for Baxter, who sees their conversations interrupted by overwhelming advertising; the tennis racket, which used as a sieve shows its defenselessness; kitchen furniture that can be friend or foe, like the champagne bottle that mistakes its uncorking for a shot.

Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in "Apartment" the Billy Wilder
Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment”

However, the most important element of all those around you are the keys. The keys to his apartment symbolize his slavery and humiliation; the keys to the bosses’ lavatory signify his degradation as a person. The gesture of giving these keys to Sheldrake on New Years Eve, instead of the apartment keys, is proof of his liberation as a slave and his dignity as a person.

A film that must be viewed, must be reviewed and must be studied. It’s a unique example of how a script should be conceived, written and produced. A whole film lesson from the teacher Billy Wilder.