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Written by Timothy Sexton
The part of Jack Lemmon was actually written for Jack Lemmon. Lemmon was just coming off his brilliant performance in Some Like it Hot which was also directed by Billy Wilder and would go on to appear in several more of Wilder’s films. In Wilder’s estimation, Lemmon could basically do no wrong and combined with his Everyman person, he was the ideal choice for a character like C.C. Baxter.
MacLaine received her second Best Actress nomination for The Apartment. Although Wilder and co-scripter I.A.L. Diamond were typically quite insistent on faithful rendering of their screenplay, MacLaine’s improvisational style also helped formulate her character and flesh out some scenes. Apparently, Wilder was impressed enough with her skills to overlook the occasional need to reshoot scenes where she missed a word or two: MacLaine received her third nomination playing the title role in Wilder’s Irma La Douce a few years later.
The amazing thing about Fred MacMurray is that he could so perfectly play a guy who is a total jerk and kneebiter like Jeff Sheldrake, a guy who is a total good guy like the Absent-Minded Professor and a completely ambiguous guy who is neither cad nor hero like Walter Neff in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. In other words, Fred MacMurray was one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood history and one of the most amazing bits of movie trivia you will ever learn is that he was never nominated for an Oscar. He should have been for The Apartment. Another bit of trivia: MacMurray only got to play the part of Sheldrake because original choice Paul Douglas died just before filming was to commence.
Veteran character actor Jack Kruschen was another cast member that benefited from the original choice not being available. In the case of C.C. Baxter’s neighbor, Dr. Dreyfuss, provenance for the replacement actor came not in the form of death, but Broadway. Another quite recognizable face from this era, Lou Jacobi, had been Wilder’s original choice, but his being cast in a play appearing on Broadway made him unavailable for shooting. Kruschen took the ultimate advantage of the unexpected opportunity by acting his way to a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the role.
As the secretary from whom Jeff Sheldrake learns firsthand that you there are just some women you shouldn’t cross more than once, The Apartment proved to be the first of a series of 1960s films in which Edie Adams turned a small role into a memorable character. When watching this film and the others in that series, one of the biggest mysteries of cinema in the 60s becomes phrased in the form of the question: why didn’t Edie Adams become a star?
The sexy blonde waiting outside the phone booth inside the bar may bring to mind another sexy blonde of the era with her breathless, little-girl-lost voice, platinum mane and distinctive black gown. That’s no accident. Billy Wilder had recently directed Marilyn Monroe through a very difficult shoot on the set of Some Like it Hot and lived to tell about it. Rather than tell, however, Wilder chose to show: the Blonde is manifestly intended to bring to the viewer’s mind Marilyn Monroe. The intended message of bringing that image to mind remains less evidence, however.
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