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It’s of my opinion that The Apartment is one of the greatest love stories ever made. I know that’s a pretty broad statement to make, especially when there are so many great classic love stories, but I think many people would agree with me on this one. It’s romantic and tragic, filled with great dialogue and direction by Billy Wilder. A friend once asked me, “If you could go back and rewatch a movie again for the first time?”, my immediate answer was “The Apartment“. It’s magical.

The Special Edition dvd was released just in time for Valentine’s Day and it’s certainly a movie that warrants this treatment. So when I was checking out Amazon to see what the special features were, I absolutely recoiled in horror at the cover art.

The Apartment - new cover
The Special Edition Cover Art

And you’re probably asking yourself: what’s wrong with it? It’s certainly pleasing to the eye and the pictures of the three principal cast members are lovely.

But if I were checking out this dvd for the first time, I would think that The Apartment was one of those silly, fluffy 60’s screwball comedies. And come to think of it, Shirley MacLaine could be the one of the poster girls for that genre (for the ultimate in wacky 60’s fluff, see her and her many husbands in 1964’s What a Way to Go!). All the cast members look happy–you would never think that Fred MacMurray is the ultimate slimeball just by looking at the cover, would you?–and Shirley is holding her arms out in a sort of “Oh my, which one do I choose?” pose.

But The Apartment is not a fluffy comedy. Sure, there are comedic elements–the opening where C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) describes his workday and even the misadventures of his bosses using his apartment elicit a chuckle. But as the movie moves forward, the plot turns into something more serious and heartbreaking. One of the saddest scenes occur in Baxter’s apartment on Christmas Eve, where Sheldrake (MacMurray) tells Fran (MacLaine) to buy herself something nice for Christmas and then gives her a hundred dollar bill. It’s not only depressing, but infuriating that he could trample over Fran’s heart in such a crass manner, treating her like a tramp. It would be easy to play this character as a dim witted elevator girl, but I’ve always felt that Shirley is a better dramatic actress than a comedic one. When she opens up her broken mirror at the Christmas party, you just want to reach through the screen and give her a hug. She has this ability to make you care about her characters, no matter how dense they may be (See also her portrayal as Ginny Moorehead in 1958’s Some Came Running). It’s a shame she didn’t win the Oscar for this role, but was sidelined for Elizabeth Taylor’s “Pity Oscar” for Butterfield 8.

Old Cover Art for The Apartment
The Old Cover Art for the Regular Edition

At it’s heart, The Apartment could be classified under comedy-drama, but light on the comedy and heavy on the drama. All which brings me back to that pesky dvd cover art: maybe I feel so protective over this movie because it was one of the first movies that I fell in love with. To be honest, I thought the old cover art for the regular edition was quite lovely. I would be sad if someone bought this and was slightly disappointed because it wasn’t what they expected (a great film is a great film, but when you’re in the mood for a comedy, a drama doesn’t quite do it). But to go by the old saying, you should never judge a book (or in this case) a dvd by it’s cover, especially when it comes to The Apartment.

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