Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Movies: The Apartment & Never On Sunday

Being seven blog entries behind, particularly when half those entries cover two movies each, is not the kick in the butt it ought to be. Sitting down to write this is like pulling teeth, probably because The Apartment is one of those perfect movies that you don't need to say anything about. And yet, I set myself these tasks.

Without having seen many Billy Wilder movies, I feel safe saying that The Apartment is the best, because it's just that good. Jack Lemmon plays Baxter, young office drone #7649 (not really, but you get the idea) at a huge New York accounting firm, where he lusts sweetly after pert elevator girl Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). Baxter spends his evenings (and sometimes even his late nights) killing time at the office, the streets, and neighborhood bars, while a number of higher-ups at the firm use his apartment to entertain their various lady friends (mostly switchboard operators and secretaries from the firm as well). He doesn't like it, but it lands him not one but two promotions (he is suddenly the youngest executive at the firm), and so no matter how distasteful the situation is, he lives with it—until, that is, he finds out, thanks to a compact with a broken mirror, that the irreproachable Miss Kubelik is his boss' flavor of the month. Broken promise after broken promise, and cold, 1950s ad-man behavior (instead of buying Fran a present, he pulls a $100 bill out of his wallet for her after their Christmas Eve tryst) drive Miss Kubelik to attempt suicide, in Baxter's apartment, after the boss leaves, so that when Baxter comes home after his own drunken holiday escapade, he finds her passed out cold on his bed. With the help of his neighbor, a doctor, she pulls through, and after a few more twists and mix-ups, the movie ends as they toast to the New Year together. In paragraph form, it sounds kind of pat, but Romantic Comedy weren't always dirty words. The film addresses—lightly but nevertheless seriously—the kind of isolation one finds tucked into every nook of New York, where people live having left their families and histories behind, looking for something better, but rarely finding anything at all.

Never on Sunday is a film strangely paired with The Apartment, which suffers by its relative irrelevance, but mightn't be so terrible on its own. Its concerns are more overtly, if crudely, existential, highlighted via cultural comparisons that are a gimme for a post-structuralist cultural critic. The heroine is Ilya (Melina Mercouri), the noble moral savage (a Greek prostitute who delights in her work (i.e., not your average American crack ho, but a beautiful woman with a zest for life's simple pleasures: eating, swimming, and sex)). The idiot is Homer (actor/director Jules Dassin), an American "amateur philosopher" who comes to Greece, the seat of the last so-called evolved civilization, with the hope of identifying where society "went wrong." He finds the embodiment of said "crisis" in Ilya, and attempts to reform her. Illogically, she lets him, and all the town suffers from the loss of her butterfly-like presence. She, too, seems to wilt under the seriousness of 18th Century continental philosophy, 19th Century chamber music, and early 20th Century painting (Homer replaces a photograph of all her male friends with a cubist Picasso monstrosity). Luckily, a plot twist enables her to free herself from his yoke (he had entered into a Devil's bargain in a shallow subplot, accepting money (to buy books, records, and other educational materials) from the landlord/pimp No Face, who shared Homer's dream of Ilya's retirement, but for more capitalistic reasons). Quickly, Homer becomes the social pariah he seems to always have been, but he still refuses to leave the small town. By the film's end, though, he's redeemed himself, and, after innumerable glasses of ouzo, dances the gleeful dance of the locals in the bar before boarding a ship home and throwing his notebook into the sea. He's enough of an obnoxious idiot that we find ourselves kind of wishing that he hadn't found reconciliation, but instead had his nose and a few other things broken by the burly Greek fishermen, but the film doesn't seem to want to concern itself with the question of cruelty, despite its supposed philosophical bent.

1 comment:

Joni said...

Wait! Did I tell you about The Apartment--because I just watched that too. (It was recommended to me because the address of "the apartment" is one block from mine.)

(And I see you watched The Misfits, one of my favorite MM films. I also recommend Some Like It Hot and The Seven Year Itch.)