THE APARTMENT (1960) revisited

June 20, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. This is the latest addition to my “revisited” series where I re-watch and then write about (not a review) a genuine classic movie. It’s been 60 years on this one, so please expect spoilers with no spoiler alerts. Appearing on most every legitimate list of greatest cinematic comedies, director Billy Wilder’s film actually defies categorization and is a terrific blend of comedy-romance-drama and commentary on societal gender roles of that era. Mr. Wilder co-wrote the razor-sharp script with I.A.L. “Iz” Diamond. The two were collaborators off and on for 15 years, including what many consider to be the best comedy of all-time, as well as one of Marilyn Monroe’s finest films, SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959).

Jack Lemmon stars as CC “Bud” Baxter, a clerk at Consolidated Life, a New York insurance company with 31,259 employees. Baxter is but a minor cog in the conglomerate wheel, save for one thing: he allows upper management to use his apartment for their extramarital affairs. He doesn’t much like the arrangement, but lacks the backbone to stand up to them – especially since they dangle the carrot of promotion. Although the neighbors think he is a womanizing Lothario, Baxter’s life is void of companionship. He’s on the outside (of his own apartment) while others are living it up. Elevator Operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) has caught Baxter’s eye, yet while she is courteous and friendly, she politely deflects his flirtations.

When that promotion finally comes through, Baxter finds himself with yet another executive requiring use of the apartment. Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) is the Human Resources Manager, and his demands lead to a most disheartening discovery. Baxter is crushed when a broken compact mirror and the office Christmas party allow him to figure out that Mr. Sheldrake is having an affair with Ms. Kubelik, and he himself has been providing the place.

 There are so many terrific scenes and performances, it’s not practical to go through each and every one. The early interactions between Baxter and Kubelik are quite fun – he’s so eager, and she’s so careful not to wound his pride. Kubelik and Sheldrake in the booth at the Chinese Restaurant is quite remarkable, and Baxter’s neighbors (Jack Kruschen and Naomi Stevens) are especially effective as the doctor and his quick-to-judge wife. Sheldrake’s secretary, Miss Olsen (Edie Adams), is a standout in her Christmas Party scene with Ms. Kubelik, and watching Baxter and Mrs. MacDougall (Hope Holiday) drunkenly dance the holiday hours away is comedic genius, although nothing can top Baxter deftly wielding a tennis racquet (wooden frame, of course) to strain pasta.

The film earned 10 Oscar nominations, and won in 5 categories: Best Picture, Best Director (Wilder), Best Screenplay (Wilder and Diamond), Best Art/Set Direction (Alexandre Trauner, Edward G Boyle), and Best Film Editing (Daniel Mandell, who also won Oscars for THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, 1946, and THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES, 1942, and who also started in showbiz as an acrobat for The Flying Mandells in Ringling Brothers Circus). The film’s other nominees were Best Actor (Lemmon, a 2-time Oscar winner for MISTER ROBERTS, 1955, and SAVE THE TIGER, 1973), Best Actress (MacLaine, Oscar winner for TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, 1983), Best Supporting Actor (Kruschen), Best Cinematographer (Joseph LaShelle, and Oscar winner for LAURA, 1944), and Best Sound (Gordon Sawyer). Somehow Adolph Deutsch’s film score got nominated for a Grammy, but not for an Oscar. He did win 3 other Oscars for ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950), SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954), and OKLAHOMA! (1955).

Writer-director Billy Wilder is truly one of cinema’s giants. In his career, he was nominated for 21 Oscars, winning 6 (THE LOST WEEKEND 1945, SUNSET BLVD 1951). This film was released one year after SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959), a film that often tops the list of best all-time comedies. That film and this one, are also in the battle for best final line: “Nobody’s perfect” vs “Shut up and deal”. Wilder admitted that his idea for THE APARTMENT came from one scene in BRIEF ENCOUNTER, the excellent 1945 film from director David Lean, adapted from Noel Coward’s play.

Jack Lemmon’s “Bud” Baxter is just one of many memorable characters throughout his stellar career that featured 8 Oscar nominations, 2 Oscars, and roles in comedy and drama. He was a close friend of comedian Ernie Kovacs who was married to Edie Adams (Miss Olsen in this movie), and had a remarkable comedy partnership (10 movies) with Walter Matthau, the best known of which is THE ODD COUPLE (1968).  Lemmon appeared in 7 Billy Wilder movies, and was the first actor to win Oscars for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.

Shirley MacLaine was only 25 years old when she starred as Fran Kubelik. Like Mr. Lemmon, her (6) Oscar nominations were spread across four decades (50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s), finally winning for TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983). In real life she is Warren Beatty’s big sister, although they’ve never appeared in the same film. Ms. MacLaine is renowned as a film actress, stage performer, dancer, author (multiple books), and of course, New Age guru. She’s now 86 years old and still working.

Fred MacMurray plays the scoundrel Jeff Sheldrake. Mr. MacMurray is best known for his 12 seasons and 380 episodes as the most patient father on “My Three Sons”. His career spanned fifty years (1929-1978), and he made his mark as a serious actor in such films as the ultimate film noir classic DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) and THE CAINE MUTINY (1954). He sprinkled in some westerns, before shifting to comedy in the first Disney live action film THE SHAGGY DOG (1959), and then family fare like THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961) and SON OF FLUBBER (1963). He was certainly an underrated, though never out-of-work actor. On an interesting side note, when he was age 22, he played saxophone in a band that featured Bing Crosby as the lead singer.

 Edie Adams plays Miss Olsen, secretary to MacMurray’s Sheldrake. Her screen time here is limited, but her role is crucial to the story and well-crafted by Ms. Adams. She was the wife of early TV comedy legend Ernie Kovacs, who died in a car accident in 1962 at age 42. Ms. Adams put together a multi-faceted career including time as a nightclub singer, and actress on TV, stage, and film. She is still remembered for her iconic cigar commercials:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7EbLIdE88Q

Baxter’s neighbors are played by Jack Kruschen as the understanding Dr. Dreyfuss and Naomi Stevens as the more direct Mrs. Dreyfuss. Mr. Kruschen’s 48 year career covered more than 220 credits in TV and film. Ms. Stevens is remembered for her role in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967) and a recurring role on “The Doris Day Show”. She passed away (age 92) just a couple of months before her 70th wedding anniversary.

Joyce Jameson plays “the blond” Marilyn Monroe lookalike. She is best known for her roles in Roger Corman horror films, and for a recurring role as bombshell Skippy on “The Andy Griffith Show.” Another link to that classic TV series comes from Hal Smith, who dons the Santa Claus costume in the bar. You might recall Mr. Smith as Otis, the town drunk in Mayberry. He was also the voice of Owl in numerous “Winnie the Pooh” cartoons and movies. Hope Holiday plays Mrs. MacDougall, Baxter’s dance partner on Christmas Eve. Ms. Holiday was known as “the voice”, and made frequent appearances in Billy Wilder films.

In addition to MacMurray’s Sheldrake, the other four managers to take advantage of Baxter and his apartment were played by David Lewis (a recurring role as the Warden on “Batman” TV series), Willard Waterman (well-known character actor in radio, TV, film), David White (Larry Tate on “Bewitched”), and Ray Walston. Mr. Walston had many memorable roles including teacher Joe Dobisch in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982), JJ Singleton in THE STING (1973), co-starring with Bill Bixby in “My Favorite Martian”, and as Judge Henry Bone in “Picket Fences.” He’s yet another in the cast whose career lasted nearly 50 years.

The film’s lasting impact comes courtesy of the fun and energy and comedy on the surface, supported by a sadness lurking underneath. It offers a brilliant balance between lightness and serious social issues, and provides quite a statement of the times. A glance at the era shows us what a typical office environment was like. Women were subjected to endless harassment and unsolicited offers from the men in charge. They either had to find a way to deal with it, or quit and find another job – one where they’d likely face the same culture. Still, despite the sadness, the film does offer a bit of hope … plus some truly classic lines (including that last one). Girl with the “wrong guy” is common theme in movies and literature (and life), but “that’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.” And the next time you are debating with friends over a list of Christmas movies, don’t forget Billy Wilder’s THE APARTMENT. Hey, if DIE HARD qualifies, this one surely must!

watch the trailer:


NINOTCHKA revisited (1939)

April 14, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been too far long since my last “revisited” piece. These are meant to be a combination of movie review and historical perspective on a particular classic movie that I’ve watched yet again. My choice this time is NINOTCHKA, nominated for 4 Oscars (including Best Picture nominees) in what is widely considered one of cinema’s greatest years, 1939.

The roster of director, writers, producers, cinematographer, composer, set director, set decorator, editor, costume designer and actors reads like a “Who’s Who” of Hollywood. The director-producer was Ernst Lubitsch, whose career included 3 Best Director Oscars for HEAVEN CAN WAIT 1943, THE LOVE PARADE 1929, and THE PATRIOT 1928. He also directed THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940) which was later adapted into YOU’VE GOT MAIL (1998 with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan). Lubitsch made a successful transition from silent films to talkies, and also directed 3 other films (a total of 6) that were Oscar nominated for Best Picture, including NINOTCHKA. He died of a heart attack at age 55 in 1947.

There are four credited writers for the film, each of which received an Oscar nomination. The original story was written by Hungarian writer Melchior Lengyel, and was adapted by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Walter Reisch. Mr. Wilder was nominated for 21 Oscars in his career, winning 6. Of course, he went on to become one of Hollywood’s most successful directors with classics like DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), THE LOST WEEKEND (1945), SUNSET BLVD (1950), WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957), SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959), and THE APARTMENT (1960). Co-writer Mr. Brackett scored 9 career Oscar nomination, including wins for THE LOST WEEKEND (1945), SUNSET BLVD (1950), and TITANIC (1953), the first two of which he shared with Mr. Wilder. Wilder and Brackett had quite a professional relationship, as they wrote 14 movies together, and on an odd personal note, Brackett’s second wife was the younger sister of his first wife (who had died). Mr. Reisch, a 4-time Oscar nominee, shared the TITANIC Oscar with Mr. Brackett, and also wrote the still-popular GASLIGHT (1944, directed by George Cukor).

Greta Garbo plays Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, better known as the titular Ninotchka. Ms. Garbo was born in Sweden, and became more than a movie star … she was an icon. She was a 4-time Best Actress nominee, including one for NINOTCHKA. This was her first U.S. comedy, which was such a big deal, that MGM used the tagline, “Garbo laughs!” (a riff on “Garbo Talks!”). This was her penultimate film, as after TWO-FACED WOMAN (another comedy with co-star Melvyn Douglas), she walked away from acting in 1941 at age 36 (imagine if Meryl Streep had retired after OUT OF AFRICA). Ms. Garbo lived in seclusion in New York City, cultivating the infamous “Garbo Mystique”. She never married, though John Gilbert standing all dressed up at the alter certainly thought she was going to! For other standout Garbo performances, see ANNA KARENINA (1935), CAMILE (1936) and QUEEN CHRISTINA (1933).

Melvyn Douglas plays Count Leon d’Algout, a debonair charmer who incites a (passive-aggressive) rivalry between Ninotchka and Grand Duchess Swana. Douglas’ character is one we more frequently expect from William Powell or Cary Grant (both were offered the role), but it would be a mistake to think Lubitsch “settled” on Douglas. He’s considered one of the finest actors ever, and one of the few to have won a Tony, an Emmy, and an Oscar (he won two). Douglas has played the on screen dad to both Paul Newman (HUD, 1963) and Robert Redford (THE CANDIDATE, 1972), as well as Gene Hackman’s dad (I NEVER SANG FOR MY FATHER, 1970) and Peter Sellers’ quasi-mentor in BEING THERE (1979). Mr. Douglas is the grandfather of well-known actress Illeana Douglas (TO DIE FOR, 1995; STIR OF ECHOES, 1999), although, to this day, he is best remembered as the actor who made Greta Garbo laugh!

While Ms. Garbo and Mr. Douglas dominate the screen time, the cast features some other interesting and talented players. Ina Claire plays the exiled Grand Duchess Swana. Ms. Claire was a young Vaudeville performer and part of Ziegfeld Follies before building a reputation as a sophisticated comedy stage actress. She was briefly married to John Gilbert after he was jilted by Garbo, and she only appeared in 7 “talkie” movies before retiring from acting in 1943. Bela Legosi appears as Commissar Razinin, and of course he is best remembered as Count Dracula from Tod Browning’s 1931 DRACULA for Universal. Legosi was a charter member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and died flat broke after his affiliation with schlock-director Ed Wood. He appeared alongside fellow Monster Universe icon Boris Karloff in numerous films (including THE BLACK CAT, 1934; THE RAVEN, 1935), and was buried wearing one of his Dracula capes (not the one from the film). The 3 bumbling Russian envoys who so quickly adapt to western ways are played by actors who fled their homeland and emigrated to the U.S. due to war. Sig Ruman was a German who appeared in several Marx Brothers films, Felix Bressert was a German who had a medical practice as a “side gig”, and Alexander Granach was Hungarian, and also appeared in FW Murnau’s 1922 NOSFERATU. Lastly, Edwin Maxwell, who plays jeweler Mercier, appeared in 13 Best Picture nominees (4 winners) in a 15 year span.

Although the story is not a complicated one, it’s important to note the era. The world had not yet stabilized after WWI and was on the verge of WWII. Joseph Stalin was the leader of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, and one of the most feared men on the planet. That may not sound like the foundation for a comedy, and it’s important to note that the film is comedy, satire, and political commentary rolled into one. Three Russian envoys are sent to Paris to sell the jewels seized from Grand Duchess Swana during the Russian Revolution. They book the Royal Suite at a posh hotel (partly) because it has a large in-room safe for the jewels. As they are meeting with local jeweler Mercier to finalize the sale, Count Leon barges in to scuttle the sale and trick the envoys into returning the jewels to their rightful owner, the Grand Duchess. Soon, Ninotchka, a no-nonsense Russian, is dispatched to expedite the sale and send the first 3 envoys back home. Ninotchka and Count Leon meet by happenstance, and he’s immediately smitten with her, while she initially views him as little more than a curiosity.

The Eiffel Tower segment is pure brilliance in writing and acting. The dowdy Russian (Ninotchka) is interested in the global landmark for its technical achievement, while Count Leon shifts his charm into overdrive. Her line telling him to “suppress” his flirting is really our first glimpse of Garbo comedic timing … though it’s certainly not the last. The segment serves as a contrast in personalities – the face of communism versus the face of capitalism. Of course, it’s the “Garbo laughs!” moment in the café that most remember. Count Leon bumbles through joke after joke to no reaction, and once she cracks, she really lets loose. It’s a thing of beauty to watch.

As previously mentioned, it’s not just Lubitsch and Garbo and Douglas that make this a classic. The full production crew have a place in cinematic lore. Cinematographer William H Daniels won an Oscar for THE NAKED CITY (1948), and lensed 21 Garbo films. Editor Gene Ruggiero won an Oscar for AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956), and composer Werner Haymann was a 4-time Oscar nominee. Set-Art Director Cedric Gibbons was a one-time Edison Studios staffer, and won 11 Oscars over 26 years, eclipsing the 8 Oscars won by Set Director Edwin Willis. Adding to the intrigue is Costume Designer Adrian (married to actress Janet Gaynor) who is still revered as one of the best all time with over 250 movies in 30 years, though he’s even more famous for his designs outside of cinema.

1939 is arguably the greatest of all movie years since it also gave us: GONE WITH THE WIND, THE WIZARD OF OZ, STAGECOACH, MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, GOODBYE MR CHIPS, GUNGA DIN, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (the first of the series starring Basil Rathbone), OF MICE AND MEN, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and LOVE AFFAIR. Though it didn’t win any Oscars (4 nominations), film schools still study NINOTCHKA’s sardonic dialogue, and the way the ‘decadent’ western ways seduce the Russians. It’s clear why film history books refer to the “Lubitsch touch” – a comical and witty approach to serious topics. Beyond that, the MGM marketing department certainly knew how to capitalize on a guffawing Garbo. As with the best classic films, there is much to study, much to learn, and above all, much to enjoy.

watch the trailer:


SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) revisited

October 12, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Billy Wilder‘s classic was the latest in the comedy series sponsored by Dallas Film Society and Dallas Morning News. It is almost always ranked as one of the top comedy films of all-time, and often the best ever. While that’s a bit higher than I would rank it, there is little doubt that it has earned its enduring place in cinematic history. To fully understand the impact of the film, it helps to remind yourself of the times … it was filmed more than 50 years ago. What we might call tame today, was incredibly risqué and daring for the times.

What really stands out while watching the film is just what an incredible screen presence Marilyn Monroe possessed. It is quite challenging to take your eyes off her during any of her scenes. I am at a loss to come up with any other actor or actress who even comes close to this level of camera-cornering. Greta Garbo and Marlon Brando were great, but Marilyn is transcendent while on screen. Of course, the reports of her personal issues are legendary. Supposedly on this film, she was constantly 2-3 hours late, couldn’t remember her lines and had to be coddled by all involved. Still, the final product is stunning and director Billy Wilder understood that no other actress could be substituted. Sadly, Marilyn only made two more films and was dead 3 years after this film was released.

 As wonderful as Marilyn is, this is really the story of Joe and Jerry, or Josephine and Daphne, or even Junior. Those five characters are all played with crackling comedy timing by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Lemmon, as Daphne, is especially terrific as he tango’s the night away with Osgood Fielding III (played by Joe E Brown). Curtis is at his best when courting Marilyn’s Sugar Kane while sporting his Cary Grant impersonation and driving the boat backwards.

There are so many classic comedy moments in this film, and though it is based on a 1935 French farce titled Fanfare d’Amour, Wilder and his co-writer and frequent collaborator I.A.L. Diamond made it their own by adding the gangster story line. Seeing notorious movie bad guy George Raft tied to the 1929 Chicago St Valentine’s Day Massacre adds a dimension that many writers/directors would be unable to handle. Instead, Wilder injects his frenetic dialogue and mixes in some wild double-entendre’s, a touch of Marx Brothers, and the sensuous singing of Marilyn to deliver a world class comedy and must see for any movie lover.

 The Florida scenes were filmed across the country at the historical Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, which remains a very popular resort location even today. Marilyn sings “I Wanna Be Loved By You” and “I’m Through With Love” in such a way that her character’s naivety adds a dimension that breaks the heart of Joe (Curtis) and mesmerizes the viewer. Billy Wilder is certainly one of the Hollywood giants and delivered such classics as Sunset Blvd, The Apartment, Irma laDouce, and Witness for the Prosecution. His excellence spans numerous film genres, and we admire his patience and proficiency in juggling the issues required to pull off Some Like it Hot … and, though it’s true that “Nobody’s perfect“, he does avoid the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

**Note: the film received 6 Oscar nominations, and won for Best Costume Design

**Note: Wilder decided to film in Black & White because the make-up on Curtis and Lemmon was distracting in color

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI_lUHOCcbc

 


TMI (3-6-12)

March 6, 2012

TMI (Today’s Movie Info)

Oscar trivia

There are five writers who have each won 3 Oscars for their screenplays:

WOODY ALLEN: Annie Hall*; Hannah and Her Sisters; Midnight in Paris
CHARLES BRACKETT: The Lost Weekend*; Sunset Boulevard; Titanic (1953)
PADDY CHAYEFSKY: Marty*; The Hospital; Network
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA: Patton*; The Godfather*; The Godfather: Part II*
BILLY WILDER: The Lost Weekend*; Sunset Boulevard; The Apartment*

*Best Picture Winner

 


TMI (2-2-12)

February 2, 2012

TMI (Today’s Movie Info)

February: Director’s Month

 BILLY WILDER (1906–2002) wrote many German scripts prior to Hitler’s coming to power.  Being Jewish, Wilder fled Germany.  Both of his parents died at Auschwitz. He collaborated closely with Steven Spielberg on the script for Schindler’s List (1993) but refused a screen credit. Wilder was nominated for eight Best Director Oscars (second most to William Wyler’s 12), winning twice: The Lost Weekend (1945) and The Apartment (1960). Wilder is one of only seven filmmakers to win Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay for the same film.  He won all three for The Apartment (1960).  He made 7 films with his favorite actor, Jack Lemmon, including Wilder’s final film Buddy Buddy (1981).  Wilder was such a versatile filmmaker, he won recognition for his film work in comedies, drama, war and film noir.  He directed four films that consistently show up on lists for the 100 best movies of all time: Double Indemnity (1944), Sunset Blvd (1950), Some Like it Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960).  He once said of Marilyn Monroe: “breasts like granite, and a brain like Swiss cheese”


DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) revisited

November 12, 2011

 “I wonder if you wonder.”  Every time I hear Walter Neff say those words to Phyllis Dietrichson as their intial encounter concludes, I smile and settle in for another round of Double Indemnity (1944).  Chris Vognar, Film Critic for the Dallas Morning News kicked off his Fall Film Noir Series (co-sponsored by Dallas Film Society) with one of my all-time favorites.  Though I have seen it many times over the years, this was my first time on the big screen … and from a 35mm print!  So much of the subtle filmmaking becomes apparent – the variance of lighting, the intensity of shadows, and the vividness of close-ups.  This reinforces my belief that we should never miss an opportunity to view good films in a theatre setting … just as the director intended.

 Since this film was released 67 years ago, I won’t bother about noting “SPOILERS“.  If you haven’t seen it and plan to, you might stop reading here.  If you would like a little insight, then let’s keep going.  Billy Wilder (left) directed the film and his place as a Hollywood legend is quite secure.  He was nominated for 21 Oscars (Director, Writer, Producer) and had 3 wins.  Some of his classics are: The Lost Weekend, Sunset Blvd, Witness for the Prosecution, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, The Front Page.  Many think of Wilder as a comedic filmmaker and he certainly had success in that genre, but if you watch closely, even his comedies have a dark element to them.

Double Indemnity is based on the novella by James M Cain, who also wrote Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice.  Wilder was a fan of Cain’s book, but knew the dialogue wouldn’t work well on screen.  So together with Raymond Chandler they wrote a screenplay filled with crackling lines and a constant feeling of dread and pending doom.  As great as the script is, it is heightened by a wonderful cast that includes Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Tom Powers, Richard Gaines and Byron Barr.

For me, MacMurray’s performance is what brings the words to life and jumps the film to the “must see” category. He is playing against two Hollywood heavyweights in Stanwyck and Robinson, but we are somehow sympathetic to this not-so-bright guy who gets played like a fiddle by the villainous, wily woman he lusts after.  Even as he is recording his confession, a part of us understands how he got drawn into MURDER!  Not just any murder, but one for money and love … only there is no money, and there is no love.

 Ms. Stanwyck is perfectly cast as the femme fatale who weaves her web of deceit and destruction.  She quickly spots the vulnerability of MacMurray’s character and uses her assets just enough to hold the leash tight.  It is a testament to her screen presence that she can pull off the sultry siren while sporting a less-than-desirable blonde wig.  At the time, the wig was so controversial that the producers compared it to George Washington and wanted it trashed.  However, filming was too far along and now it’s impossible to imagine her looking any other way.  Besides, MacMurray only seems to notice her anklet!

 Edward G Robinson made a name for himself as a tough-guy actor … cop and mobster all rolled into one.  Here he plays the insurance investigator with a sixth-sense for fraudulent claims.  He is a hard-nosed, dedicated employee who takes his responsibility very seriously and has no sympathy for those who cheat his cherished system.  He has a soft spot for co-worker MacMurray, even though he is one of the back-slapping salesmen he so loathes.  Their relationship in the film is one of respect and about as close as two professional men could be, given the era.  When Robinson goes off on his rant about suicide research, he is a joy to behold.  This guy could flat chew scenery.

 In addition to the infamous wig, you might also notice that MacMurray is wearing a wedding band throughout the film, even though his character is clearly a single man.  Wilder and MacMurray stated many times over the years that was simply a mistake and not “caught” until post-production.  Expect a chuckle when MacMurray, as the narrator, enviously describes a Spanish style Los Angeles home as costing $30,000 … probably less than the property taxes would be on that house today.  The film originally was to end with MacMurray in the Gas Chamber and Robinson looking on (inset), but this was deemed inappropriate.  One last little nugget: early in the film, MacMurray walks out of Robinson’s office and past a man sitting on a hallway chair reading a paperback book.  That man?  Raymond Chandler, in his only on screen appearance.

The film is often described as quintessential Film Noir.  Another prime example of Film Noir would be The Big Sleep (1946), based on a Raymond Chandler novel, directed by Howard Hawks, and starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.   While Film Noir might not be an easily definable term, there are certain elements that must be present.  Lighting is key.  Shadows must be prevalent.  Some type of detective story is usually at the center, and we typically get some poor schlub of a guy being yanked around by the femme fatale.  The right “mood” is essential … as a viewer we know things are headed down the wrong path, but we just can’t save the characters from their own poor choices.  But neither can we look away.  That helpless feeling is a strong indicator that you just watched a terrific Film Noir.

watch the original trailer: