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Taste Test: The Apartment (1960) vs. Jerry Maguire (1996)

June 25th, 2009 · 11 Comments

The Apartment, 1960, poster Jerry Maguire, 1996, poster

By Joe Valdez

What the *&#! Are They About?

C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) — accountant for Consolidated Life, or more specifically, “Ordinary Policy Department, Premium Accounting Division, Section W, desk number 861” — has made his West 60s apartment available to four executives who treat Baxter’s home as their extramarital playground. His neighbors, a Jewish physician and his wife, form the impression that Baxter is “a notorious sexpot” who scores with a different woman each night. Baxter is so accommodating with the arrangement that he sleeps on a bench in Central Park when an admin manager (Ray Walston) calls from a bar around the corner and requests use of the bachelor pad.

Baxter’s cooperation earns such high marks at the office that personnel director J.D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) learns about the apartment. In exchange for membership in the key club, he decides Baxter is executive material. To celebrate his promotion, Baxter works up the nerve to ask out kooky but alluring elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) completely unaware she’s the girl Sheldrake intends to take back to his place. Baxter finds out and receives a coveted promotion in return for his discretion, but has to choose between his climb up the corporate ladder and his feelings for Miss Kubelik.

The Apartment, 1960, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon

Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise), a top agent at Sports Management International — “I handle the lives and dreams of 72 clients and get on average 264 phone calls a day” — is stricken with a bout of conscience late one night. He authors a “mission statement” calling on his peers to take fewer clients and make less money for the greater good. His vision inspires single mom Dorothy Boyd (Renée Zellweger), the only member of SMI who volunteers to leave with Jerry when he’s fired by his smarmy protégé (Jay Mohr). Jerry manages to take two clients with him, including the #1 pick of the forthcoming NFL Draft: Frank Cushman (Jerry O’Connell).

When Cushman defects on the eve of the draft, Jerry & Dorothy focus on their remaining client — a wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals named Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) — and the contract extension the irascible athlete and his wife (Regina King) need for the future of their family. Jerry calls off an engagement to his driven fiancée (Kelly Preston) and to keep her from leaving L.A., rewards Dorothy’s loyalty by marrying her, much to the disconcert of her divorced sister Laurel (Bonnie Hunt). While his friendship with Rod empowers both men professionally, Jerry realizes his missteps with Dorothy threaten to make all of it meaningless.

Jerry Maguire, 1996, Tom Cruise, Renee Zellwegger


The Apartment had fermented in the mind of writer-director Billy Wilder since 1945, when he wrote himself a note after seeing Brief Encounter. David Lean’s classic dealt with the affair between a married man and a married woman, but Wilder was more intrigued by the character that lends the lovers the use of his apartment and had to crawl back into a warm bed all alone. Unable to get around the Production Code or the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency in 1948 or 1949, Wilder found tolerances had shifted dramatically in the wake of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Little Richard. By the 1960s, audiences were ready for a movie with implicit sexual content.

Eager to make another film with Jack Lemmon following the success of Some Like It Hot, Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond dug out their ideas for The Apartment. According to Diamond, the story was drawn from the Hollywood scandal in which producer Walter Wanger shot talent agent Jennings Lang when he discovered Lang was sleeping with his wife, Joan Bennett; an employee at MCA had provided the apartment where his boss and mistress were shacking up. Wilder & Diamond brought The Apartment to producer Walter Mirisch, with United Artists footing a budget. A script was finished only four days before filming began November 1959 in New York.

The Apartment, 1960

Many consider The Apartment to be the best comedy Billy Wilder ever made. It is, but it’s still one black cup of coffee. While at his peak in the 1950s (Sunset Blvd., Ace In the Hole) Wilder was not content writing jokes; he wrote films about murder and deceit that had a lot of humor in them. The Apartment turns on lies, a suicide attempt and the corruption of the American dream, but the vital wit in Wilder & Diamond’s script make it all go down with a teaspoon of sugar. Their structure is waterproof — nothing is introduced that isn’t paid off later — and arrives at a happy, Hollywood ending without threatening to insult the intelligence of the audience.

Jerry Maguire
came in the wake of writer-director Cameron Crowe’s poorly received second feature, Singles. By the time Warner Bros. released it in the fall of 1992, even some of Crowe’s friends accused him of exploiting the Seattle music scene. The disconnect Crowe felt from people he’d once known well would bleed into his next script. He’d been studying the work of master filmmakers like Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder. The film that impacted Crowe the most was The Apartment, which he loved so much — in its comic yet biting portrait of a working stiff and his love for an elevator operator — it quickly became Crowe’s favorite film.

Jerry Maguire, 1996, Tom Cruise

After spending a year researching “stiffs with briefcases”, a friend showed Crowe a photo in the L.A. Times of a sports agent and his client. Far from a jock growing up, Crowe was drawn to the frenzied, big money backdrop of professional sports and with the help of sports attorney Leigh Steinberg, spent the next three years interviewing agents, athletes and owners in the pros. Along the way, producer James L. Brooks suggested they begin Jerry Maguire where an ‘80s movie would have ended: the guy who finds “the religion of goodness.” That guy would then spend the rest of the movie dealing with the consequences of his new philosophy.

The beauty of Jerry Maguire is in the dexterity of Cameron Crowe’s screenplay, which is about a bachelor romancing a single mom, the bonding of an agent and his male client, and a look at the business of pro sports in the 1990s. With Crowe’s perfectionist attention to detail, heartfelt wit, and ambition, any one of those stories would have probably made a good film. Here, we get all three. It’s also funny, with supporting characters of supporting characters entering and exiting to tremendous effect. The movie may have too much heart, but that’s just Crowe; he doesn’t pour sugar on for effect, but seems to really feel as much as his film does.

The Apartment, 1960, Fred MacMurray, Jack Lemmon

Writing edge: Jerry Maguire

After Jack Lemmon agreed to reteam with Billy Wilder in the role of C.C. Baxter, the director chose Shirley MacLaine to play Fran Kubelik, who accepted on the basis of a plot synopsis and the 30 script pages that had been finished. MacLaine was perhaps best known for the Rat Pack comedies Some Came Running and Can-Can, but Wilder hoped to push her dramatically. Paul Douglas — who’d appeared in A Letter To Three Lives — was cast as Mr. Sheldrake, but a couple of days before filming began, died of a heart attack. Wilder & Diamond both arrived on Fred MacMurray, who’d worked for Wilder on Double Indemnity in 1940.

Jack Lemmon & Shirley MacLaine have an undeniable chemistry on film. The only contemporary equivalent I can think of is Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan, except that Ryan has little emotional range and annoys me greatly. Like Hanks, Lemmon beautifully plays the dreams and struggles of an average guy with impeccable comic skill and without making him seem like a loser. MacLaine is a superb comedienne in her own right; this might be the finest role of her career. As for the limited supporting cast, it is fun to see Fred MacMurray play a rat bastard, as opposed to driving a flying car for Disney, while Ray Walston turns in terrific work as the conniving Mr. Dobisch.

Jerry Maguire, 1996, Tom Cruise, Kelly Preston

Cameron Crowe wrote Jerry Maguire for Tom Hanks, who graciously declined in part because he didn’t buy Jerry’s marriage to Dorothy. Winona Ryder was a frontrunner to play the Shirley MacLaine part, but after four months of auditions, Ryder, Bridget Fonda, Marisa Tomei and Mira Sorvino were all passed over. The offbeat and melancholy quality of the virtually unknown Renée Zellweger sold her to the filmmakers. Crowe and Cruise made a personal plea to Billy Wilder to accept the part of Jerry’s mentor Dicky Fox, but the 89-year-old retired director brusquely declined. An executive VP of Intellectual Property at Sony Pictures named Jared Jussim filled the role.

It sure is hard to enjoy Jerry Maguire these days. Some ill-advised media outbursts have transformed Tom Cruise into the most despised movie star in the land. Renée Zellweger has been branded with mousy parts and Cuba Gooding Jr. has gone from Academy Awards to Daddy Day Camp. As celebrities, they get thumbs down, but as actors, each turn in fine performances. Credit goes to Crowe, James L. Brooks and casting director Gail Levin for filling the other roles. Bonnie Hunt, Jay Mohr, Regina King, Kelly Preston and Beau Bridges are amazing to watch here. Todd Louiso is a laugh riot as Chad the Nanny, while Jonathan Lipnicki (the kid) turned the whole movie. A parade of pro athletes appear as themselves to neat effect.

The Apartment, 1960, Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine

Casting edge: Even

Production value

While Billy Wilder initially shot exteriors for the apartment on West 69th Street, autumn in New York proved so chilly and unreliable after dark that the footage was reshot on a soundstage at Goldwyn Studios in Culver City. The artifice of the apartment and its sidewalk doesn’t detract from the story one bit, perhaps because in black & white, they don’t look nearly as phony as they would have in color. Production designer Alexander Trauner did a magician’s job creating the illusion of spectacular depth inside Consolidated Life by constructing desks and chairs that got smaller and smaller the further into the background they were positioned.

No style looks more dazzling to me in a movie than black & white film stock framed in anamorphic format. La dolce vita, The Hustler, Jules et Jim and The Haunting are just a few titles from the early 1960s that I can watch over and over just in terms of their presentation. The shadows of black & white film just have a dreamlike quality that resonates deep within the imagination, while the epic vertical horizon of anamorphic scope seems inherently suited to movies, even intimate dramas like The Apartment. If I was a big time film director in the ‘60s like John Frankenheimer, I would have shot in nothing but black & white anamorphic. Joseph LaShelle lit The Apartment.

The Apartment, 1960, Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine

Jerry Maguire commenced filming March 1996 in more than 70 locations in the Los Angeles area, as well as in Tempe, Arizona. Janusz Kaminski — who became Steven Spielberg’s preferred DP starting with Schindler’s List — lit the film. Production designer Stephen Lineweaver constructed two major sets at Sony Studios in Culver City: Dorothy Boyd’s home and the interior of Sports Management International. Costume designer Betsy Heimann does a yeoman’s job doing what I typically ignore unless it’s a period film — costume design — finding the right wardrobe for sports agents, single moms, a kid and others in the same film.

Cameron Crowe is not a filmmaker who has ever seemed concerned with camera lenses or effects, but Jerry Maguire was directed with a tremendous amount of finesse. Beyond the script and casting, what I like most about Jerry Maguire was how neatly it encapsulates worlds that on the surface would seem totally exclusive to each other — locker rooms and broadcast booths, suburban living rooms and backyards, hotels and airplanes — and makes them feel alive. Jerry’s journey as a character is how he navigates each of these worlds and how he comes out on the other side. Crowe does an underrated job of taking us on that journey visually.

Jerry Maguire, 1996, Bonnie Hunt, Renee Zellwegger

Production value edge: The Apartment

The Apartment and Jerry Maguire are films of different eras. Other than the fact that one is in black & white and the other in color, in no other area is the year they were made more obvious than in the musical arrangements. Billy Wilder turned to Adolph Deutsch to compose the musical score for The Apartment. The results — other than a fine piano theme, “The Jealous Lover” written by Charles Williams — are undistinguishable from any other movie made 20 years prior. In fact, I would be hard pressed to recall music from any Wilder film of the period.

Next to Quentin Tarantino, no filmmaker today has a better vinyl record collection than Cameron Crowe. Jerry Maguire marked the first time in his career he really started putting the stamp of his personal tastes in rock ‘n roll or folk music on his films. “Magic Bus” by The Who, “I’ll Be You” by The Replacements, “Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen, “Shelter From the Storm” by Bob Dylan and “Wise Up” by Aimee Mann are all used to great effect. Singer/ songwriter Nancy Wilson would compose two acoustic guitar themes: “We Meet Again (Theme from Jerry Maguire)” and “Sandy”.

Jerry Maguire, 1996

Music edge: Jerry Maguire

Cultural impact
Opening June 1960, The Apartment would earn $6.5 million in the U.S. and $2.7 million overseas, making it the 8th highest grossing movie released in 1960. It would earn ten Academy Award nominations and win five: Best Art Direction (Alexandre Trauner, Edward G. Boyle), Best Editing (Daniel Mandell), Best Original Screenplay (Wilder & Diamond), Best Director (Wilder) and Best Picture. A musical comedy based on the film — Promises, Promises — ran on Broadway for four years beginning in 1968, while Wilder’s sophisticated brand of human comedy and drama continues to inspire filmmakers. The Apartment was even Billy Wilder’s favorite among his own films.

Hitting theaters December 1996, Jerry Maguire was a blockbuster. It tallied box office of $153.9 million in the U.S. and $119.6 million overseas. After Singles, Cameron Crowe wanted to make a movie that people would want to watch on TV at night, and TNT has granted him that wish with repeat broadcasts of Jerry Maguire over the years, minting “Show me the money!” in the popular consciousness. This was the peak of Tom Cruise’s popularity: Rosie O’Donnell devoted an hour of her daytime talk show to her adoration of Cruise and his latest film, which was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture (only Cuba Gooding Jr. took home an Oscar).

Cultural impact edge: Even

The Apartment, 1960, Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine

Winner: The Apartment

The Apartment is, was and always will be a beautifully made motion picture. To the credit of Cameron Crowe, when it comes to comedy, a love story or a read on the fine print of the American Dream, Jerry Maguire is actually a slightly better written and directed film. But for reasons mostly beyond anyone’s control, it’s become bloated with the baggage that massive success can bring. I much prefer watching Jack Lemmon & Shirley MacLaine in beautiful black & white widescreen than hearing “Show me the money!” one more time.

Your thoughts?

Tags: Dreams and visions · Drunk scene · Famous line · Interrogation · Sports

11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pat Evans // Jun 26, 2009 at 2:58 am

    Although you do your best to give Crowe his due, there is really no contest here — he may be inspired by Wilder but he can’t equal him. Cruise and Zellweger just do not have the magic of Lemmon and Maclaine (in fact neither Tom nor Renee possess much movie magic from my point of view, despite their successful careers). And personally I’ll take black and white over unimaginative color anytime.

  • 2 AR // Jun 26, 2009 at 8:43 am

    I’ve actually never seen Jerry Maguire, so it’s hard to compare. All I can remember is the immense hype it got and how disinterested it made me. I think by then I had also soured on Tom Cruise. I’ve just avoided it since.

    But I love The Apartment. You’re right, it’s beautifully filmed and has plenty of Wilder’s dark wit and moral quandaries. I love Jack Lemmon (especially with Wilder) and Shirley Maclaine’s films from that era.

  • 3 kelsy // Jun 26, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    I probably would have never associated these two movies together, but they are both romances tinged by loneliness and awkward circumstances.

    I’d have to rewatch these to really know which one I prefer, but I’d say Jerry McGuire is a good one to just watch chunks of on cable TV, while The Apartment feels more like a film you have to watch as a whole. Then again, I’ve probably only seen each of these movies once.

  • 4 Neil Fulwood // Jun 28, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Although I’m in complete agreement that ‘The Apartment’ is the superior film (I personally find ‘Jerry Maguire’ highly overrated and would put ‘Almost Famous’ and even ‘Elizabethtown’ above it if I were picking a Cameron Crowe DVD to settle down with this evening), may I ask, Joe, how you’re deciding on the winner in these articles?

    The structure you’re using suggests that the winner is based on the categories delineated for purpose of comparison. However, the two films emerge as evenly matched in casting and cultural impact, while ‘Jerry Maguire’ gets the vote for writing and music, and ‘The Apartment’ takes the gold in only one category – production values. Therefore, isn’t it actually ‘Jerry Maguire’ that should be declared the champ?

    I went back and applied this theory to the ‘Rosemary’s Baby’/’Exorcist’ article and using these parameters the films emerge as evenly matched.

    Or is the winner based simply on your personal response the film, a tacit acknowledgement that however effective the component parts of a movie may be, it’s whether said movie strikes a chord with you that matters most?

  • 5 Joe Valdez // Jun 28, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Patricia: I had hoped to do more than just give Cameron Crowe his due. I think Crowe and Tarantino are the two great screenwriters working today and I’d be willing to say, better writers than Wilder & Diamond. Jerry Maguire is funnier than The Apartment, a sharper commentary than The Apartment and feels more alive than The Apartment. But your dissent and your thoughts are always appreciated.

    Amanda: My amateur research polling among ladies indicates that Tom Cruise soured because he started coming across in the media as contrived. But even if he has faltered with the public, Cruise’s performances in Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia warrant respect. If he died of a heart attack tomorrow, the Internet would be flooded with tributes about what a terrific, risk taking actor he was. Thanks for commenting!

    Kelsy: Other than the fact that Cameron Crowe was directly influenced by The Apartment when he wrote Jerry Maguire, I think both movies are about how there’s more to life than success at the office. I highly recommend revisiting Wilder’s work in the 1950s if you want to get your film buffery on. Thanks for chiming in.

    Neil: Thanks for finding clarity the the willy-nilly nature of my verdicts. Criminal defendants should be glad I’m not a judge because my rulings would have little to do with law, likely resting on whose story I liked better. Expect future Taste Tests to be close calls — there’s no sport in comparing The Best Years of Our Lives to Pearl Harbor — that come down to which movie I would rather watch again, as opposed to x’s and o’s.

  • 6 Chuck // Jun 30, 2009 at 7:17 am

    I don’t much care for most of Wilder’s straight comedies, I think they’re shrill and obvious and contrived (I downright hate One, Two, Three), Wilder’s funnier when he’s juggling other tones (Sunset Blvd, Double Indemnity, etc). I find The Apartment just ok, it coulda benefitted from being meaner and more mercinary. I don’t believe the romance, and I don’t find many of the jokes funny either. (MacMurray steals it.) And it’s clear that Crowe has taken alot from Wilder – both of them feel too “written” – both filmmakers have that way of stuffing their movies with dialogue that just oh-so-cutely happens to sum everything that’s going on. A moment in Jerry Maguire that drives me nuts: when Dorothy delivers that line to her son about first class flying/life. It’s a decent bit on its own, but it on-the-nose labels EVERYTHING that was going on in the scene just fine previously. Elizabethtown has about 500 such lines.

  • 7 Joe Valdez // Jun 30, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Chuck: You raise some astute points, as always. I don’t think Billy Wilder walked on water as you pointed out and The Apartment could have been better. Its beauty still resonates with me though. Crowe — like Tarantino — can be a little too pleased with his writing sometimes. Elizabethtown was a minor disaster. But I did like Jerry Maguire a lot more than you did. It was a wonderfully executed script. What other big romantic comedies of the last 20 years can you point to that were better written? Aaron Sorkin’s The American President may be second, but it’s a distant second.

  • 8 AR // Jun 30, 2009 at 11:24 am

    “But even if he has faltered with the public, Cruise’s performances in Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia warrant respect.”

    Oh, I completely agree. The thing with Cruise is that he has a cocky quality that I just find very off-putting. Yet it’s that same quality that makes him so effective in the films you’ve mentioned. I liked him in Magnolia especially. His range is limited, but works in the right context.

  • 9 Neil Fulwood // Jul 2, 2009 at 5:06 am

    I think it says something about my dislike for Cruise that the only role of his I’ve enjoyed is Les Grossman in ‘Tropic Thunder’ – a corpulent, classless producer of Hollywood pabulum gleefully essayed by the man who used to be the poster boy for exactly that kind of thing.

  • 10 Daniel // Jul 22, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Love this comparison! I also wouldn’t have thought to put the two together, but then I also didn’t know about Wilder’s influence on Crowe’s production of JM (a movie which I’ve seen a million times and still enjoy).

    Chuck does make some good points, but I think if The Apartment were any nastier in its time, it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful. As it was, it dealt with infidelity, corruption, and suicide. Like American Beauty, it turns the mirror on audiences and shows them “contemporary culture”, which is not say that AB is as good as The Apartment – in fact I didn’t like it at all.

    Anyway, at the end of the day you have to give this one to The Apartment as much for its polish and performances as its cultural legacy and its timelessness.

  • 11 EJK // Sep 18, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Sheeesh — imagine someone spending this much verbiage on garbage such as “Jerry Maguire.”

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