Decades can run together sometimes — fashions and art trends at the end of the 1980s weren’t that different from what happened four or five years later — but movie-wise, the 1960s started off audaciously, announcing the revolutionary decade to come.
In the summer of 1960, Alfred Hitchcock took chances with “Psycho” that would have been unimaginable a few years earlier. The violence and the strongly implied sex in the film shocked and thrilled audiences, and pushed movies in a much more adult direction. By the end of that turbulent decade, nudity, four-letter words and bloody violence would be common in pictures ranging from “Bonnie and Clyde” to “Midnight Cowboy.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also loosened up in 1960 by giving its top prize to “The Apartment,” Billy Wilder’s mordant comedy about New York City office life, adultery and attempted suicide.
Like Hitchcock, Wilder had earned the right to take chances with both theme and content in “The Apartment” because of a series of huge financial hits in the 1950s, including “Some Like It Hot” and “The Seven Year Itch.”
In his terrific book on the movies of the 1960s — “Medium Cool” (Knopf) — Ethan Mordden writes that the Wilder film is “an initiating piece, drawing us into the dawn of the age.”
“‘The Apartment’ is Wilder at his toughest. Who is there to admire here? The jerk who renders himself homeless for professional advancement, lending his apartment to executives for juju trysts? The cute elevator operator who is willing to throw her life away for an executive who is clearly only using her?”
“Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray. These are apt Wilder people, all capable of encompassing the Wilderian paradox world of attractive goons, winsome losers, and sympathetic heels. Yet aren’t they all at their least appealing here? ‘The Apartment’ is merry: quick, funny, New York without the danger. We even get Christmas. But these characters ARE disgusting: such eerie goons, such total losers, such total losers, such self-rationalizing heels.”
Although the picture was widely praised and made a bundle and won five Academy Awards, there were moviegoers in 1960 who weren’t ready for Wilder’s dark comedy about office polititics and romance.
Wikipedia reports that shortly after the film came out Fred MacMurray “was accosted by a strange woman in the street who berated him for making a ‘dirty filthy movie’ and hit him with her purse.”
I can’t wait to see the movie again Thursday night in Milford.