Film Viewing Guide

“The Apartment” (1960)

[Paper due: Wednesday, 2/12/14]

Nuts and Bolts:

To ensure your proper preparation for this assignment, you should be sure to have read the appropriate supplemental readings: Paul Boyer’s “The Other Side of the Picture Window” (on reserve at the library) and the excerpted sections from William Whyte’s influential 1956 book, The Organization Man and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique to aid you in fleshing out the film’s significance. The paper should be 4-6 pages, typewritten double-spaced. Any ideas you encapsulate from my lecture material need not be cited, unless you are quoting or recounting it in some kind of precise manner. In that latter case, you may depart from the more formal citation style expected of outside sources (Chicago Manual of Style) and simply parenthetically note following the appropriate passage: “(Schutz, [date of lecture]).” To cite any of the assigned readings noted above, you may follow a similar format as the lectures. For example: “(Boyer, 256),” “(Whyte, 132),” etc. Should you decide to include any outside sources beyond your assigned reading (not a necessary part of doing a successful job)-- and that certainly includes any sources from the World Wide Web--you should, of course, fully cite those sources, or risk the serious charge of plagiarism.

What Not to Do: Do not simply recount the plot of this film and the content of the readings in your paper. I will presume you have seen the film (as I have) and done the readings as a simple necessary first step to composing your paper. Your job will be analysis-- which will include your own thoughts. Hence, you should cite scenes and dialogue from the film and text from the readings as examples to support your analysis-- not as the fundamental skeleton of your paper.


Paper Topic:

“The Apartment” appeared on the American silver screen as the decade of the 1950s came to a close. What do you imagine as director and screenwriter Billy Wilder’s overall sense of the decade? Does he have a positive or negative view? Does that view jibe with any American cultural observers of the period? How so? What might William Whyte have to say about this film? Americans pride themselves on having a meritocracy (a system whereby the most qualified— those with the most merit, the best ideas, the strongest work ethic— rise to the top). What is Wilder’s view of the business world in general and corporate executives in particular during the 1950s? Does it jibe with the broad, popularized view among 1950s Americans of the business world and corporate success? What is women’s role in this world? How do they derive their identity and utility in this 1950s world?

In your view, is Wilder’s appraisal of these issues a fair assessment? Do you believe that corporate America and American society has changed since the 1950s?


Events/Issues/Themes to pay attention to:

► Note the film’s opening sequence. What does Wilder’s choice of visual and dialogue tell us about the view of American society and its business world that his film will further explore?

► The film, of course, largely revolves around the experience of C.C. Baxter. What motivates the decisions that his character makes? Is there something particular about the 1950s which would motivate a person like himself?

► The use of a mirror is a subtle recurring theme in the film. Why might it serve Wilder as an effective reflection on the society and business environment which these characters inhabit?

► During at least two different scenes in the film, Consolidated Life executives refer to “teamwork.” This is currently a term back in vogue in the corporate world. When the film’s characters use the term, what do they mean and expect?

► What is the view of women in the film? How do their challenges differ from and parallel those of the different men in the film?