In 1960, following on from the success of their collaboration on Some Like it Hot, director Billy Wilder (Ace in the Hole, Sunset Boulevard) reteamed with actor Jack Lemmon (The Odd Couple, Glengarry Glen Ross) for what many consider the pinnacle of their respective careers: The Apartment.
C.C. “Bud” Baxter (Lemmon) is a lowly Manhattan office drone with a lucrative sideline in renting out his apartment to adulterous company bosses and their mistresses. When Bud enters into a similar arrangement the firm’s personnel director, J.D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray, Double Indemnity), his career prospects begin to look up… and up. But when he discovers that Sheldrake’s mistress is Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine, Irma la Douce), the girl of his dreams, he finds himself forced to choose between his career and the woman he loves…
Winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, The Apartment features a wealth of Hollywood’s finest talent – on both sides of the camera – at the top of their game. By turns cynical, heart-warming and hilarious, Wilder’s masterpiece now shines like never before in this all-new, 4K-restored edition from Arrow Films.
Arrow Academy presents Billy Wilder’s The Apartment on Blu-ray, making use of an all-new 4K restoration scanned from the original negative (and other elements where needed). Like Fox/MGM’s previous edition the film is again presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc in 1080p/24hz high-definition.
There’s no nit-picking minor differences between this edition and the older MGM: they are night-and-day different. The old MGM release, using an older high-definition master made for DVD, has a more processed, video look that was apparent even at that time. Arrow’s brand-spanking-new restoration offers an astonishing improvement, looking far more like a film when all is said and done. It presents grain in a far better, more natural manner, less noisy. The details are far sharper, contrast levels are balanced far better between blacks and whites, delivering more distinct tonal shifts in the grays, allowing so much more information coming through. The blacks are especially great here, allowing for more shadow detail, where they were crushed and sort of lost in the old presentation. The improvements even made the experience of watching the film a slightly different one. One sequence, near the end, delivered a detail I have to confess I never noticed before: trying to avoid spoilers butat one point Lemmon gets upset during a confrontation and his eyes visibly water up and this is something I never, ever noticed before. It’s possible I was just not as astute in past viewings (entirely possible), but a part of me believes it has to do with how previous home video releases just couldn’t deliver that clearly. Everything is just so much more clear and organic, it’s incredible.
The restoration work has also been incredibly thorough and I don’t recall much damage. The booklet mentions that there were scenes sourced from non-negative elements, some of them spliced into the negative elements themselves (they’re unsure why) and really stress that they did their best with them, preparing you for the worst. In this case they’re “under promising/over delivering” because the shifts are not that bad. There are a couple of sequences that, yes, appear a bit “dupier” in comparison to the rest, looking a little softer with a slightly harsher contrast, but they’re few and far between and, in the end, not that bad. The worst of this presentation still looks significantly better than the best moments present on MGM’s disc. Bravo to Arrow.
MGM’s disc only presented an odd 5.1 remix that I’ve never been a fan of and Arrow does carry it over here. Again presented in DTS-HD MA it sounds fine in that the audio is crisp and clear and doesn’t present any severe bits of damage or distortion. And though I’m not a fan of the remix it again, at the very least, doesn’t drown out any important bits of dialogue. But there are some real awful forced surround effects that I had completely forgotten about, with the worst offender probably occurring during the opening of the film where Lemmon’s character sits in front of the television with his TV-dinner. As he watches TV and the camera moves around the audio from the TV moves between the speakers. It’s rather harsh and calls too much attention to itself and is more distracting than cool. There are other bits that don’t work in a similar fashion but that one sequence might be the worst. At the very least the stereo effects and movements between the front speakers work better and aren’t distracting.
Thankfully (!) Arrow also includes the original monaural track, delivered in PCM 1.0. This track is so much better. Though it lacks some of the dynamics and range found in the surround remix I still found it far more pleasing because it lacked all of the tricks of the 5.1 track and doesn’t distract in this manner. Everything is focused to the center but it’s still clear and sharp, no distortion present, and no severe damage. It’s fine and I’ll be sticking with it from here on out.
Though Fox/MGM went through this phase of not porting special features from their DVD editions to Blu-ray (like Ronin and A Fish Called Wanda) that actually wasn’t the case with their release for The Apartment. Still, it was a lackluster couple of features, fine enough to go through but “meh.”
Arrow fixes that by giving us a number of better features while also carrying over those MGM ones. First is the same audio commentary by film historian Bruce Block. I listened to it when I reviewed the original MGM disc but sampled it here to refresh my memory of it. I don’t feel any different about it so please excuse me while I copy & paste from that old review: He can drain some of the fun from the film when he analyzes shots, and also points out the obvious, but he does provide some interesting notes about the production, explaining how some of the sets were constructed (like the Orwellian office Lemmon works in), talks about scenes or segments snipped from the script or from the finished film, and offers a history for many of the actors that appear. In the end it’s not terrible by any means, and is well researched, but I didn’t find it especially eye-opening. So, yeah, not required listening but you could do worse.
Arrow then produces a few new features of their own, two featuring writer/critic Philip Kemp, first in a 10-minute appreciation for the film called The Key to the Apartment and then a 9-minute select-scene commentary going over two scenes from the film. In his appreciation he explains why he feels this is Wilder’s best film and the importance of its casting in handling the humour and darker tones found within. His commentary then focuses on two sequences from the film, the one where Lemmon and Hope Holiday are in the bar, and then the first sequence where MacLaine and MacMurray first meet, both key scenes he feels. He uses these two scenes to look at the balance of dark and humour, as well as to showcase the performances. They’re both short features but they’re both excellent appreciations and I think he presents his case quite well.
Also new is a video essay by David Cairns called The Flawed Couple. The notes sell it as an essay about the working relationship between Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder though is a bit more than that, getting into Wilder’s work as a whole. At first he examines the unlikely type of leading man Lemmon made for and the period (not a tough guy, more emotional, and far from perfect) how the two would work together, sometimes getting into conflicts (Lemmon had to sneak in bits, like the use of nasal spray, because Wilder would usually object to any suggestions beforehand) before looking at a few of their other films together. But a good chunk of it looks at his later work, which wasn’t nearly as successful, along with how he worked with other performers, like MacMurray and MacLaine. It runs about 20-minutes.
A Letter to Castro is also new, and feature an interview with Hope Holiday, who for 13-minutes recalls getting the role and the wonderful experience it was. It’s a very charming and energetic interview, and I was amused at how she had to stop herself from badmouthing other films she has been in. This is then followed by an archival feature, a 23-minute informal conversation with Billy Wilder, taken from archival tapes made by the Writers Guild Foundation for a series of oral histories. After an opening narration by Lemmon, Wilder then talks about his style of filmmaking from structuring the story to casting and writing original material, the latter focusing on The Apartment.
The main section of features then closes with a restoration demonstration that, for over 2-minutes, gives various before-and-after examples showcasing the work (I was surprised by some of the heavier damage), followed by the film’s theatrical trailer.
Arrow also includes a sub-section for MGM’s previous archival features that were found on their Blu-ray edition. There’s the fine-but-sort-of-fluffy-and-lacking-depth 12-minute Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon, which offers a rather quick overview of the actor’s work. Much better is the 29-minute documentary Inside the Apartment, covering the film’s production and release. It starts off with a little about Billy Wilder’s arrival into the States, Some Like it Hot, and then how Lean’s Brief Encounter influenced The Apartment. From here it goes over the controversies surrounding the plot, the risks it took for the time, general stories about the production, and then its release and standing today. It’s pretty standard fare, similar to most MGM documentaries of this sort, but it is fairly interesting and worth viewing if you are curious about the film’s making.
Being a limited edition Arrow of course goes a little bit bigger with their edition, giving us a rather large box set. The disc comes in one of their standard clear Blu-ray cases (with reversible art showcasing the original poster) and then is packaged with a hardbound book in a sturdy cardboard sleeve. The book is 150-pages and features “selected writings” about the film. There are a couple of new essays, one by Neil Sinyard offering his own argument about the greatness of the film, followed by anoter by Kat Ellinger looking at how Wilder infused some of his film noir instincts into his comedy films. There is then another essay by Travis Crawford and Heather Hyche about the changes that came about in terms of the Production Code at the time of the film’s release. It’s a good book but it’s really no different than Arrow’s thinner options in other titles: to pad the book out the font and margins are both bigger and it is padded with a lot of photos.
As a BD-ROM feature Arrow also includes the original script as a PDF.
Overall, it’s a lovely looking release and the bonus features are far more interesting and fulfilling. Another great upgrade over MGM’s release.
It’s a really handsome looking release and it delivers improvements in every way over MGM’s previous mediocre release, improving on features and video (the latter quite drastically) while also (thankfully) offering the original mono track. Unfortunately I’m coming to this late, a week after its release date, and it appears to be sold out in both North America and the U.K., both receiving 3000 copies each.
If you missed out I would hold off from paying ridiculous prices. Arrow has always (as far as I’ve seen) released regular editions after their limited stock sells out. These usually just come in standard Blu-ray cases and lack any of the collectibles like books, postcards, and maybe even a bonus disc. Since this is only a single-disc release it’s safe to say their standard edition will at the very least feature the same disc, which is great on its own. The only exclusive here is the box sleeve and the book, and neither are worth the already inflated prices this is going for (again, the book has been padded with photos).