Betsy Vardell | Movie Poster of the Day

Holiday Movies in Print: The Apartment

Rampant venality, serial adultery, alcohol abuse, suicide jokes—finally, a holiday movie I can get behind. At first blush, the comedies of Billy Wilder may appear to be light cinematic romps, but beneath all the sight gags and wisecracks lies a rather dark view of the human condition. From the sneeringly cynical Richard of The Seven Year Itch, bored with his wife and eager to get in Marilyn Monroe's pants (or, like the subway gales, up her dress), to the ostensibly playful romp of Some Like it Hot, which many forget is premised on the lead characters having witnessed the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, much of what's funny in Wilder's tales arises from the very bad things people do to each other. So with The Apartment, a movie so dark it manages to turn Fred MacMurray into a grade A son of a bitch.

The movie poster here follows suit—a jubilant mix of colors and words, Jack Lemmon and Shirley MaClaine smiling back at us as they dash away into the distance. Fun, right? What the poster doesn't quite show is the darkness that set them running—but as in the movie, it's present just below the surface.

At a glance the design appears very much of its time, figures and text floating on deep orange after the style of Saul Bass or Cliff Roberts. Prominent is a sketch of a key in a lock, rendered playfully but referring with not-so-subtle Freudianism to the very item that causes so much trouble for Baxter.

Then there's the text, its serifed font suggesting the ever-clacking, soulless machine-humanity of Baxter's office. Several suffixal uses of “wise” are a nod to a semantic tic of McClaine's Fran. But a grim world-wisdom is very precisely the thing Baxter and Fran attain, and at no small cost.

So what darkness do those smiles conceal? What trials did they endure before they could laugh away into that depthless ocher distance? To paraphrase the movie's famous line, Shut up and watch!

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Media

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