The Apartment Arrow Academy LE BD & MGM BD Comparison (originally published 2017)
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"When you’re in love with a married man you should never wear mascara.”
Lonely office drone C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) has stumbled upon a fast track to the top of the corporate ladder – he ‘rents’ his New York City apartment out to his company’s four managers for their extramarital liaisons. His plan works out especially well when personnel director Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) asks permission to use the apartment and allows for Baxter’s promotion to proceed without contest. Excited, Baxter attempts to use his new social standing to woo pretty and charming elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), but he is crushed when he realizes Fran is Mr. Sheldrake’s mistress.
Often cited as Billy Wilder’s best film and certainly his most popular (not to mention his only Best Picture Academy Award winner), The Apartment endures and will continue enduring due to its diverse qualities. It encapsulates an era, yet was ahead of its time. It is as tied to the conventions of the late ‘50s/early ‘60s as it is to a universal and contemporary portrayal of the human condition. It flirts with the idea of an anti-Randian, anti-capitalist romantic comedy, but pushes grand ideas into the background, in favor of more intimate stakes. Wilder masks his teeth-gnashing contempt for cultural norms beneath a typical veneer of perfectly stated sardonic humor and genuinely affecting emotions, allowing his audience (as well as the period’s censors) to ignore his greater messages, assuming they’d prefer the pure entertainment value of laughs and tears. And, despite decades of cultural growth, the tragedies it depicts – mindless loyalty to corporate machinations, casual misogyny, depression, suicide, and the prioritization of social stature above personal connections – all remain painfully relevant. In the end, The Apartment is compulsively rewatchable and endlessly quotable, but it’s also an important and morally cogent cinematic touchstone.
The Apartment was first released on Blu-ray by MGM (via Fox) as a modest, but effective Collector’s Edition. The studio recycled an HD transfer they’d be using for TV broadcasts (likely an uncompressed version of their DVD transfer scan) and it was fine. Arrow has gone back to the original camera negative and restored the footage in 4K for their new 2.35:1, 1080p Blu-ray transfer. I have included screencaps from both releases (Arrow’s on the top, MGM’s on the bottom) for the sake of direct comparison. As you can see, the immediate and most obvious difference is in the gamma levels and crisper grading. The MGM transfer’s darker, higher contrast image is nice, but it swallows up a whole lot of tonal subtlety and, if you look more closely (by clicking on each image to zoom it to full size), detail as well (especially in those wide-angle shots). The 4K remaster reveals more substantial gradient levels in cinematographer Joseph LaShelle’s naturalistic photography, which remains appropriately gloomy. The new transfer also cleans up the old transfer’s fuzzy edges, smooths out its over-sharpening effects (mostly white hot-spots, rather than edge haloes), and corrects a small issue with vertical streaking during darker scenes. Grain texture is finer than on the MGM transfer, but still appears accurate and is more or less the only notable artifact on-screen (print damage is quite minimal).
The Apartment is presented with its original mono in uncompressed LPCM and MGM’s 5.1 remix in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. I stuck with the mono track for this review, both for the sake of authenticity and because I’ve already heard the 5.1 remix, which is basically the mono mix, plus a stereo version of Adolph Deutsch’s jazzy original score (and Charles Williams’ title theme). The soundtrack is in fine shape, especially for a nearly 60 year-old movie. There are no crackles or pops, the sound floor is low with no notable fuzz during quiet moments, and, while flat, the single-channel treatment has considerable depth.
Commentary with film producer and historian Bruce Block – This solid, fact-filled track has been recycled from MGM’s DVD and BD releases.
The Key to The Apartment (10:12, HD) – An Arrow exclusive discussion/appreciation with film historian and co-author of Cinema: The Whole Story (with Christopher Frayling, pub: 2011) Philip Kemp, who breaks down the film’s themes and characters. This is followed by a select scene commentary from Kemp (8:37, HD).
The Flawed Couple (20:24, HD) – In this video essay, filmmaker David Cairns explores the multiple collaborations between Wilder and actor Jack Lemmon, and how they bucked the tough male lead trends of the ‘50s. Cairns puts emphasis on The Apartment (obviously because Arrow has the rights to the footage) and also mentions other members of the Wilder/Lemmon team, including writer I.A.L. Diamond and actor Walter Matthau.
A Letter to Castro (13:23, HD) – A touching interview with actress Hope Holiday, who recalls making her feature speaking debut as Margie MacDougall in The Apartment.
An Informal Conversation with Billy Wilder (23:17, SD) – An archival interview with the director recorded as part of the Writer’s Guild Foundation’s Oral History series, narrated by Jack Lemmon.
Restoration showreel/comparison (2:20, HD)
Inside The Apartment (29:36, MGM archival extra, HD) – This retrospective featurette covers Wilder’s earlier career and the inspirations, production, and impact of The Apartment.
Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon (12:47, MGM archival extra, SD) – A brief featurette about Lemmon’s career, hosted by his son, Chris Lemmon.
The Apartment is a must-own film, as far as I’m concerned, and Arrow Films has made a good argument for updating the already okay MGM Blu-rays. The 4K video restoration is a notable upgrade in tone and detail, the new extras are substantial, the old extras are included, and the Limited Edition packaging (which includes a booklet with new essays by Neil Sinyard, Kat Ellinger, Travis Crawford, and Heather Hyche) is pretty cool.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Full-sized .jpg versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab.