Glengarry Glen Ross: Collector’s Edition

BLU-RAY REVIEW 

Street Date 6/2/20;
Shout! Factory;
Drama;
$22.97 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language including sexual references.
Stars Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Jonathan Pryce, Jude Ciccolella, Bruce Altman.

Some movies just have a way of getting in your head and wrapping themselves around your brain. Glengarry Glen Ross, based on David Mamet’s stage play, is such a film. With a powerhouse cast (including four Academy Award winners) delivering juicy dialogue, how could it not be? Don’t be surprised if you find yourself quoting the film with regularity after a viewing.

In the 1992 film, as with the play, we meet four real-estate salesmen who will do anything to sell worthless property to customers who don’t want it.

Mamet has found a way to cram so many worthwhile themes, from transition to desperation, into such a simple framework. Jack Lemmon plays Shelley “The Machine” Levine, an elderly salesman who has fallen on hard times. Al Pacino plays smooth-talker Ricky Roma, who is in the midst of a winning streak. Alec Baldwin plays a hotshot from downtown who shows up in a classic cameo written specifically for the actor for the screen version. All are pitch perfect.

Baldwin puts the fear of God into the salesmen by telling them to close a deal or they’re fired. The next day, the office has been ransacked. Sensitive documents have been stolen. The subsequent investigation quickly gives way to one of the classic verbal beatdowns in cinema history, when Pacino berates the inept office manager, played by Kevin Spacey, after he costs Roma a big sale.

These are scenes you could watch again and again with continued fascination at the skill with which these performers give life to the words on the page. Mamet’s screenplay, which he adapted himself, is often hailed as being better than the stage version due to the inclusion of the Baldwin scene, which crystalizes the stakes of the story in a way the stage production only hints at.

Surprisingly, despite its legacy and acclaim, the film earned just one Academy Award nomination, Pacino for Best Supporting Actor. Pacino would lose that race to Gene Hackman in Unforgiven, but got the last laugh the same year when he took home Best Actor for Scent of a Woman. For some people it’s just in the cards. (When the movie came out, Lemmon had been the only Oscar winner in the cast. After Pacino, Spacey and Alan Arkin would later win Oscars, with Baldwin, Ed Harris and Jonathan Pryce earning Oscar nominations).

The new Shout Select Blu-ray presents the film with a gorgeous new 4K digital transfer from the original camera negative that offers a crisp, vivid image. Being sourced from a loquacious stage play, the film’s visual splendors are secondary concerns, though director James Foley and cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchía do their best to enhance the dreary ambiance of the piece with moody shadows and reflections of rain while bathing the characters in various shades of neon.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

In terms of bonus material, the new Blu-ray offers a healthy mix of old and new extras.

The first of the new additions is a 30-minute interview with Foley as he reflects on the development of the film version and the relative ease of the production since he was working with such a talented cast and a tight screenplay. The other is “God Bless Ricky Roma,” a 24-minute interview with actor Joe Mantegna, who won a Tony playing Roma on Broadway in the 1980s.

The Shout Blu-ray also includes two half-hour documentaries from the old 10th anniversary DVD from 1992 that were subsequently included on Lionsgate’s 2016 Blu-ray edition: the “ABC: Always Be Closing” documentary about the psychological intersection of fictional and real-life salesmen, and the “Magic Time: A Tribute to Jack Lemmon” documentary.

The disc also includes two commentary tracks. One comes from Foley that originated on the 10th anniversary DVD and was included on the Blu-ray as well. He offers some good stories about the production, some of which he also recounts in the new interview, but there are lengthy gaps where he just lets the film run without saying a word.

The other commentary is by Jack Lemmon, originally recorded for the 1992 Laserdisc of the film but missing from subsequent disc releases, so it makes a welcome return here. Lemmon is effusive in his praise for his fellow cast members, whom he calls the most talented bunch he ever worked with. His commentary is a fantastic intermingling of stories from the set with tales of old Hollywood from the 1950s and ’60s.

Follow us on Instagram

As to what didn’t make it from previous releases, the new Blu-ray jettisons a 10-minute clip of Lemmon on the Charlie Rose show talking about the movie in 1992, and a two-minute bit of Kevin Spacey reciting his “Go to lunch” scene with an audience member on “Inside the Actors Studio.” Both were featured on both the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases, but their absence here is understandable given the problematic revelations regarding both Rose and Spacey that have popped up in recent years. It’s a shame to lose the reflections from Lemmon in the Rose piece, though.

In addition, a couple of extras from the old DVD that didn’t carry over to the 2016 Blu-ray also aren’t resurrected here. These include a scene-specific commentary from the cast and crew, and filmmaker Tony Buba’s short documentary “J. Roy: New and Used Furniture.” So completist collectors who have that 10th anniversary DVD might want to pair this new Blu-ray with the second disc from that set (which offers the pan-and-scan version of the movie along with the extras missing from the later Blu-rays).

Shout Select Presents ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ Collector’s Edition Blu-ray June 2

Shout! Factory’s premium home video label, Shout Select, June 2 will release a collector’s edition Blu-ray of the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross.

Adapted from the play by David Mamet, the film tracks a group of down-on-their luck Chicago real-estate salesman as they try to meet the month’s sale’s goals in order to avoid being fired.

The cast includes Al Pacino in an Oscar-nominated performance, plus Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce and Alec Baldwin as the motivational speaker whose cameo was written into the film version.

The Shout! Blu-ray edition includes a new 4K transfer from the original camera negative; a new conversation with director James Foley; a new “God Bless Ricky Roma” featurette in which actor Joe Mantegna remembers working with Mamet on a stage production of the story; an “A.B.C. ‘Always Be Closing’ featurette; a “Magic Time: A Tribute To Jack Lemmon” featurette; and separate commentaries with Foley and Lemmon.

Days of Wine and Roses

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive;
Warner;
Drama;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars 
Jack Lemmon, Lee Remick, Charles Bickford, Jack Klugman.

When I finally got around to seeing it for the first time maybe 25 years ago, the toughness of Days of Wine and Roses in its original “Playhouse 90” TV incarnation from 1958 really surprised me. And so much so that the Warner Bros. feature version, made four years later and new on Blu-ray, had tended to recede from my mind. My generally misplaced assumption was that despite having the same writer on both (J.P. Miller), the refashioning, on a fresh viewing, would prove to be too slick for the material. For one thing, there was that indelible but rather luxuriant Henry Mancini-Johnny Mercer title tune, which everyone but Walter Brennan seemed to have recorded at the time.

Yet within the confines of a December major studio release that was definitely not designed to lose an old and cranky Jack Warner too much money by depressing moviegoers, I can see from the Days-’62 Blu-ray that this isn’t really true — or that, to the extent that it is, in ways beneficial to its set-up. In terms of his overall career, this harrowing warning shot about how alcohol can destroy lives, livelihoods and families seems to have been a highly unusual project for Blake Edwards — substituting here for the TV original’s John Frankenheimer, who had directed Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie to great acclaim. But even Edwards’ participation — within two years, Hollywood’s most original comic director of his era this side of Auteur Jerry Lewis would be launching the Inspector Clouseau series — turned out to make more sense than it seemed.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

For this big-screen version, Edwards had Jack Lemmon (a longtime buddy from their Columbia Pictures’ apprenticeships) and Lee Remick — both eventually delivering performances that were successfully positioned for Oscar nominations they deserved by the movie’s limited L.A. release at year’s end. My 14-year-old self got on a downtown bus to see it during my own city’s first-run engagement the following spring, which shows you what a cultural farm my Al Roker neck of the woods was in those days. By that time, the Oscars had either taken place or were about to, and the award that many thought might have gone to Lemmon went to Gregory Peck’s can’t-fight-city-hall turn in To Kill a Mockingbird. Of course, nominated as well were Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, which has probably outlived all three voter choices, and Burt Lancaster in Birdman of Alcatraz, which I always thought pretty close to Burt’s career performance, or at least until Atlantic City. You can get a sense of why critic/historian Danny Peary, in his typically wonderful Alternate Oscars book, says that1962 was second only to 1967 for producing the volume of films that remain most beloved from that decade of mass change.

Set in and around San Francisco, the movie Days gives us a version of what Lemmon’s character in The Apartment might have become had he gone all to hell over his seamy work/romance situation in that Billy Wilder Oscar winner or had he had he inherited less booze-resistant genes. Working and occasionally even reluctantly pimping for clients in his public relations post, he’s a willing participant in the heavy drinking that went with that territory more than ever in those “Mad Men” days. When Lemmon meets and, at first, stormily courts a fresh-faced secretary (Remick) for one of the execs, he’s surprised to learn that she doesn’t drink. She’s a sucker, though, for chocolate, and he becomes the devil on her shoulder when he slips her a chocolate drink. Remick is really good in these early scenes because she projects a subtle dose of hard-to-read edginess that suggests she isn’t completely the Scandinavian straight-shooter/innocent raised by a gruff widowed father we kind of take her to be. Dad, by the way is Charles Bickford, expertly riffing on his prototypical screen self, the kind of no-nonsense studio head he played so well in the Garland-Mason A Star Is Born.

One thing leads to another, and the movie is especially good at showing how post-marriage boozing on both parties’ parts incrementally deep-sixes Lemmon’s work situation and (by extension) the quality of their living digs. The actor indulges his familiar gestures in the early part of the movie, but there are a couple set pieces in the second half that give you a Lemmon that audiences hadn’t previously seen and really didn’t again. Emmy-nominated Piper Laurie had an advantage in the TV version because she more naturally conveyed dissipation (think of The Hustler, not Son of Ali Baba); even late in the game when almost everything goes to hell, Edwards’ can’t fully camouflage that Remick is one of the most stunning actresses ever. But hers is quite some performance, and if you freeze the frame when the character hits her lowest point, the stuporous human wreckage it conveys is chilling.

Edwards almost never worked in black-and-white, but earlier in the same year, had used it when teaming with Remick for Experiment in Terror, a standout FBI-vs.-psych thriller that still holds up well. He worked a little more frequently in non-amamorphic processes throughout his career, including (noting films made around the same time) the humungous box office smash Operation Petticoat and the truly iconographic Breakfast at Tiffany’s — even though we think of him as a widescreen filmmaker, obviously aside from his TV work, Edwards shot Days in 1.85:1 and in black-and-white, which makes it close to unique in his career, permitting intimacy but also giving him room to block a horizontal image in a way close to approximating his familiar widescreen visual style. His talents as a comic director — and especially one behaves himself here, which he didn’t always do — serve him well here because without the light comic touch in the early going, two hours of solid tragedy might have been too much.

The unusually vintage Edwards commentary may put off some, but I found it fascinating. It begins weakly with long gaps of nothing, a personal admission that he’s not good at these kind of look-backs and that he’s seeing the film for the first time in years. But as it progresses, you can feel that Edwards is finding himself moved by the picture in ways that surprise him. Edwards tries making a case that his old “Richard Diamond” radio show and classic “Peter Gunn” TV shows were dramas, too — but they hardly dealt with material of this sort. What does hit is Edwards’s admission that he, too, was an alcoholic at one point before basically quitting cold turkey without too much help from Alcoholics Anonymous, though the portrayal here of AA seems at least “feels” authentic to my layman’s eye, with the performance by Jack Klugman as an AA sponsor memorably sympathetic.

Edwards opines that Days was a really good film for him to do on the heels of Tiffany’s (actually, Terror was in the middle), and certainly this lightning-in-a-bottle combo suggests an alternate direction his career might have taken. But he loved expensive pie fights, Herbert Lom meltdowns and World War I planes as big-screen playthings, and that was that. He was a complicated guy and one of my favorites, and yet without question, the source “Playhouse 90” (which was the live-drama series of all time, imho) demands a look as well. It’s on the Criterion DVD box devoted to Golden Age TV.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ and ‘Charley Varrick’

Irma La Douce

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
Comedy;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Lou Jacobi.

As both the most commercially successful movie Billy Wilder ever enjoyed and, paradoxically, the last box office hit of his career, Irma La Douce seems like something of a benchmark oddity when viewed from 55 years of perspective. This, of course, assumes that you can even employ such a diminutive term to describe a 143-minute comedy that just misses tying Avanti! as the longest the writer-director ever made. Irma doesn’t hold its length nearly as well as that later masterpiece, which has probably contributed to the decline in its reputation, though critics weren’t all that crazy about it at the time. But Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray reminds us of how gorgeous the movie is despite its inherently squalid content — and how its recent lack of availability in a decent edition has helped is lose track of its compensations. Because there are lots of them.

By 1963, the Last Rites hadn’t yet been read for Hollywood’s Production Code, but the cemetery plot had been bought and the siblings were already arguing over the china. Even so, the sight of colorfully dressed prostitutes all lined up on a Parisian street courtesy of Alexandre Trauner’s magnificent production design — among the best I’ve ever seen — was something new in blockbuster Hollywood entertainment. On one of two excellent bonus Blu-ray commentaries here, ‘A’-team film historian Joseph McBride recalls the Catholic guilt that resulted in his taking three incremental viewings to complete the picture once Shirley MacLaine’s scanty costumes and bare shoulders started getting to his teenaged self in Wisconsin the way they did to mine in Ohio, even if we lapsed Presbyterians never had to deal with such hypocritical nonsense. (Martin Scorsese once told a similar story to me on the stage of the AFI Theater, recalling his own out-of-the-theater-and-back-in wrestling with John Farrow’s 1957 The Unholy Wife.) Oddly enough, there are no actual sex scenes or even off-color language beyond Wilder and Diamond’s — that would be longtime co-writer I.A.L Diamond’s — penchant for double entendres. There’s also a second commentary by Brit film historian Kat Ellinger that’s also good as well and also compatible — which like McBride’s cares little about being scene-specific. It devotes a lot of time to subjects that obviously intrigue — like MacLaine’s career and the varied historical approaches to treating prostitution as a subject.

Irma was based on a stage musical, but Wilder didn’t like musicals, and during production he kept jettisoning songs until none were left. Instead, he had Andre Previn adapt portions of its melodies with extraordinary romance and passion into a) an Oscar for himself; and b) a fabulous soundtrack album I literally wore out on vinyl in ’63. A rose-colored rendering, Irma certainly never poses as realism and almost has the jaunty spirit of a musical — though it does devote a lot of well-utilized screen time to the economics of prostitution and how a lot of the monetary compensations (which aren’t much to speak of, anyway) go to pimps and bribes for corrupt policemen. This said, the plot turns on the introduction of an honest cop (Jack Lemmon, reuniting with MacLaine and Wilder-Diamond after their all-timer The Apartment from 1960). Or at least he starts out as one until he unknowingly and almost immediately arrests his superior for easing his work day in the neighborhood’s professional love-nest hotel and gets bounced from the force — launching him on his own career in pimp-dom.

Though Lemmon and MacLaine are about as French as Ezio Pinza, they emit the kind of casting goodwill for which Wilder was famous — that is, likable actors plunked into a seamy milieu so that audiences can more easily identify with the characters. MacLaine got a deserved Oscar nomination in an Irma role once mentioned for Marilyn Monroe, whose 1962 death just by itself made the idea of her casting a non-starter. But even though Lemmon ends up having to don Brit disguise in a plot turn that eventually grinds down the pace, he’s pretty close to his best here and surprisingly deft with physical comedy. A further delight is Lou Jacobi as proprietor of the saloon across the street from the hotel of sin — a role originally intended for Charles Laughton, who’d gone so far as to grow the character’s mustache before his own 1962 death. Given Laughton’s brilliance (or brilliant ham) in Wilder’s movie of Witness for the Prosecution, one’s what-might-have-been imagination goes to town.

There are several popups from Wilder’s ’60s stock company to pepper the action: Joan Shawlee, Cliff Osmond, Howard McNear and Hope Holiday, just to rattle off a few names from the top of my head. McBride’s voiceover devotes a lot of time to tracing Wilder’s career trajectory during this period (and beyond) when audiences once receptive to his liberation of rigid American screens eventually came to regard him as being old-fashioned. After helping promote Irma with a tie-in Playboy Interview in ’63 where he (affectionately) termed the now classic onetime flop Ace in the Hole “the runt of my litter,” Wilder suffered a more serious blow with his next picture from which his career never recovered.

It was the critical/commercial bludgeoning of Kiss Me, Stupid — a corrosive satire on blind careerism and small-town sexual hypocrisy that now has a monster cult (then reviewer Joan Didion “got it” even at the time) and which McBride notes here that he “adores.” KMS is much superior to both Irma and the comedy that followed (The Fortune Cookie), ranking with the editorially butchered The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and then Avanti! as significant Wilder achievements. But neither critics nor the public bit — or at least the American contingent didn’t — though matters fared better in Europe, where screen taste is less myopic and more historically informed.

None of this is to suggest that Irma doesn’t have a slew of seductive features and moments — a much better career choice for Lemmon at the time than, say, a stage-bound leer like Under the Yum Yum Tree, which came out later the same year. Along with Sherlock Holmes and (though no one would ever think of it) The Emperor Waltz, it’s a contender for the best-looking movie Wilder ever made, and the first 75 minutes are pretty close to a consistent breeze, with the design, costumes, cinematography and scoring in flawless sync. This is a major production that really needed 4K scanning — and gets it, to very most visual results. The sound, though, is tinny, which is a rude surprise, given Previn’s achievement.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Irma La Douce’ and ‘Strait-Jacket’

My Sister Eileen

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via ScreenArchives.com;
Twilight Time;
Comedy;
$29.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Betty Garrett, Bob Fosse, Tommy Rall.

As a Columbus, Ohio, Midwesterner who lived for a period in Greenwich Village during grad school, My Sister Eileen’s Columbus-to-the-Village trajectory has obvious appeal to me — though there was no way, of course, to predict any future whereabouts when enjoying the original 1942 screen version for the first time and on its own merits, sometime in the early ’60s. That one has a final gag built on a surprise walk-on appearance that I guarantee you’ll never see in any other version of the story — a real brainstorm of a capper that sent the audience out laughing and likely contributed to Eileen I becoming Columbia’s biggest hit of that year.

But let’s clarify: The ’42 go-round would be Eileen I in terms of movies but Eileen III in the full chronology, which is a tougher one to finesse than even the Here Comes Mr. Jordan/Heaven Can Wait maze. Following its origin as a series of Ruth McKinney New Yorker short stories, Eileen’s history is such a subway sandwich that its breakdown justifiably dominates the entire opening of Julie Kirgo’s Twilight Time liner notes for this CinemaScope/Technicolor revamp. First, post-New Yorker, there was a smash 1940 play, followed by that Rosalind Russell-Janet Blair movie version two years later.

[We’ll now take a pause here for ten pushups.]

Then, in 1953, it became a Broadway musical (another smash, with a title change to Wonderful Town) with Russell again — plus the young Edie Adams and a score by some pikers named Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. But before Town was re-adapted into a TV special in 1958 (Roz again), there was this 1955 musical version from (again) Columbia, which had an entirely new score by Jules Styne and Leo Robin. Though these latter songs are a notably weak link here, the studio came up with a balding magic potion to put at least some of them over. It was “Robert” Fosse, as the choreographic credits billed him — though as an actor here playing the amiable soda jerk who gets on both the good and bad sides of Eileen, the screen lists the more familiar “Bob.”

The central hook presents sister Ruth as an aspiring writer (last named changed from McKinney to fictional Sherwood) who makes the Ohio-to-Village journey along with slightly less worldly sis Eileen, who has smitten men falling all over her (jn other words, a role made for the 1955 Janet Leigh). Cast as Russell “Ruth” role is the onetime MGM featured player Betty Garrett — her first movie in six years by virtue of her sustained marriage to Larry Parks, a candidate for one of worst of countless HUAC casualties. Compounding a melancholy streak that never invades the film, do note that the real-life Eileen married the great Day of the Locust writer Nathaniel West and was killed with him in a 1939 car crash just before the original play opened.

Even in the role of what used to be called a “spinster” (the movie is sometimes so male-piggish in ’50s fashion that I had some discomforting moments), Garrett comes off as too senior for her role — some of which this has to do with her romantic casting opposite a very fresh-faced Jack Lemmon. This was just his fifth movie, and one so early in his career that it immediately followed the Mister Roberts triumph that eventually got him an Oscar and eventually into more substantial projects than Columbia could offer him at the time. Rounding out the romantic principals are Fosse and Tommy Rall (the latter one of the original “7 Brothers” but also one of the great trio of male dancers, with Fosse and Bobby Van, in the movie version of Kiss Me, Kate). From that moment on, Fosse was on his way as a choreographer.

Eileen begins irresistibly with widescreen footage of Washington Square closely surrounded by motorized vehicles — a delightfully New York retro look that reminds me of the Columbus Circle area shots that opens George Cukor’s It Should Happen to You (Lemmon’s big-screen debut, as coincidence would have it). In addition, we also get a filmed record of Village streets and shops to augment the studio-created apartment scenes, of which there are many. This hovel is quite a joint: below the street; curtains in name only; a kitchen that’s even thinner than its wall plaster; direct-hit subway-construction explosions at constant intervals; and street cleaner trucks that regularly re-create the “East River Experience” through their open window. Through all this, Ruth is trying to sell short stories to a ladies’ man magazine publisher (Lemmon) while Eileen pursues stardom in auditions whose “break” opportunities feel like something that Tempest Storm would have stormed out of (as does she).

Following the delightful travelogue opener, the movie turns labored amid a long set-up, but matters improve — ironically, in a movie with female principals — when the guys show up. As ever, the early Lemmon is fun to watch, though his part is small despite second billing (Columbia was giving him the big build-up). The real propellants are Fosse and fellow Eileen rival Rall, cast as a slick newspaper reporter named “Chick” Clark (a moniker I might have been willing to try in my own newspapering days). Dick York (later of Bewitched) is easy to take as an unemployed jock neighbor; his squeeze is played by Lucy Marlow, who shortly after the film’s release married Yankees third baseman Andy Carey, whose nifty fielding on a couple plays helped preserve Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game the next year. (Just getting in a Pinstriped Plug here.)

Leigh pretty well delivers on her perfect casting, but it’s Fosse who has to put the movie over to at least half-successful degree because the Styne-Robin tunes are a) really uninspired; and b) so awkwardly integrated into the action that it’s like an armored truck ammo delivery to non-lovers of musicals who hate the idea of folks just arbitrarily breaking into song. Given what he has to work with, Fosse’s choreography is splendid — including a couple numbers where you can see how hard non-dancer Leigh must have worked here (Garrett already had a musical background) and a standout one where Fosse and Rall try to upstage one another with athletic moves. Like anyone else, I admire poets and philosophers, but I also admire guys who can do back flips in street clothes.

Columbia used Technicolor in the ‘50s before moving to some awful variations of Eastman in the early ’60s, which is why movies like EileenThe Long Gray Line and The Eddy Duchin Story still have color values today that are much richer than those in movies that came years later from the studio (thank you, George Sidney, if you were the one, to get Bye Bye Birdie shot in Technicolor). This is a very handsome print, though maybe “handsome” isn’t the word for a Janet Leigh movie from this period — and I remember that Columbia’s 35mm studio copy looked pretty dazzling itself when I showed it at the AFI Theater. Eileen makes for a nifty widescreen/color demo for big-screen TVs, where you can see the apartment suddenly and amusingly becoming wider at the end when a slew of dancing extras cast as the Brazilian navy invades the apartment for a conga number. Oh, well — just another day that Henry James didn’t envision when he wrote Washington Square.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Designing Woman’ and ‘My Sister Eileen’

The Apartment

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

MVD/Arrow;
Comedy;
$49.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Edie Adams. 

When it comes to my personal choice for best/favorite Billy Wilder movie, I usually zig-zag among Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole and The Apartment — though let it be noted in the name of Joey Bishop that my strongest emotional attachment goes to Kiss Me, Stupid (absolutely and eternally) and Stalag 17 (probably in second place due to how much I loved it as a youngster, particularly in the mail call scenes: “At ease, at ease”). But re-savoring The Apartment in Arrow’s new limited edition and absorbing the bonus backgrounders both new and recycled from a past release, it’s tough to deny the perfection of 1960’s best picture Oscar winner all the way down the line, which in Wilder’s case, always extended to the care he took with, say, the 125th-billed actor.

And though topicality can be a trap when gauging a movie’s effectiveness due to how today’s dominator of news can eventually turn into tomorrow’s LP of Anita Bryant’s Greatest Hits, it’s a real punch to the face (and here, I mean this in a good sense) to see how a once controversial comedy-drama from 58 years ago can be so spot-on about sexual harassment in the work place. This, of course, is an issue not likely to fall prey to topicality limitations, so when we take a fresh jaded look at the comical sleazeball execs who populate the story’s Manhattan-based insurance company — and with its big boss the worst offender of all — there’s simply no way anyone can deny that the movie is more potent than it even was at the time.

Interestingly, especially in view of its commercial success with a public that “got it,” the picture got mixed reviews when it opened in the summer (Psycho, The Apartment and Kazan’s Wild River all opened in close proximity; ponder that the next time you deny that movies have gone to hell). Critically speaking, Pauline Kael got tiresomely huffy about it, but in truth — and in retrospect, this probably isn’t very surprising — it was her male colleagues who were predominantly offended by the idea of a career-hungry insurance company exec (Jack Lemmon) advancing up the “Mad Men” ladder by lending his apartment out to superiors for their extra-marital flings. (After, of course, packing his modest digs out with vodka and the right kind of cheese crackers.) Yeah, right: We all know this didn’t happen in the Rat Pack era.

Yet, something happened over the next few months (most likely, commercial acceptance), and by the time spring rolled around, The Apartment won five Oscars — including three to Wilder himself for producing, directing and co-writing with I.A.L. Diamond. Despite Lemmon’s supporting Oscar for 1955’s Mister Roberts, it was Wilder’s Some Like It Hot in 1959 that had “made” the actor, and Wilder knew even during Hot’s production that not only did he want him for this immediate follow-up — and that if he couldn’t get Lemmon and his ingratiating personality as an audience buffer amid an undeniably sordid premise, the picture probably wouldn’t be made. It was genius casting, as was Shirley MacLaine’s as the plot-central elevator girl (as they used to be called), as was Fred MacMurray as the firm’s slimy personnel director, Mr. Sheldrake — albeit in this case, casting that emerged from tragedy.

Paul Douglas, who hadn’t looked too healthy in swan song The Mating Game from ’59, was signed and ready to go in the Sheldrake role before suddenly dropping dead of a heart attack. Though Douglas is a lifelong favorite of mine and had played the brashly crude Harry Brock character on Broadway in Born Yesterday, he was almost always lovable (if gruffly lovable) in the movies, and I can’t recall his ever having played an absolute heel on screen. MacMurray (and his eyebrows) convey the character’s all but transparent dark side at once, and the No. 1 revelation I’ve taken from this recent viewing is just how great MacMurray is here. Though he initially resisted the part due to his then recent Disney association and the launching of TV’s “My Three Sons” (on this week’s episode, dad cheats with a pert employee who eventually tries to kill herself), this is one of MacMurray’s two career performances. Both were for Wilder — the other being his all-timer as the insurance agent who makes the worst sale possible policy sale this side of the one Bob Hope writes up for you-know-who in Alias Jesse James.

Technical credits are pro here, as Variety reviews used to say, with the visual showstopper being the set for Lemmon’s impersonally cavernous work “hangar” — the creation of Children of Paradise’s always-brilliant production designer Alexandre Trauner, who won an Oscar here. These key scenes were in turn heavily influenced by parts of King Vidor’s The Crowd, a silent so brilliantly off-the-charts that you’d naturally expect it to be on DVD or Blu-ray yet one that only enjoyed a laserdisc release back in the Cro-Magnon video era. Meanwhile, versatile (and nominated) cinematographer Joseph LaShelle gives The Apartment an appropriately noir-ish look while doing a flawless job of navigating Lemmon’s just-functional digs (for him and for the work cronies who use it). Adolph Deutsch’s score wasn’t nominated, but this has to be because his main theme was borrowed or swiped from an obscure British film of the ’40s (I’d like to hear the story behind this). Even so, the music and its many moods give both the comedy and drama a huge boost, and the aforementioned theme caught on with the public and made it to Billboard’s No. 10 when Ferrante & Teicher hugely tickled 176 ivories in their tie-in recording.

MGM’s old Blu-ray never struck me as one of the most obvious titles that begged for a revamp, but the clean-up job Arrow has done here re-emphasizes the point that imagery delivered as the filmmaker intended it can go a long, long way toward totally putting over even a screenplay as verbally kinetic as The Apartment’s. (I love it when Oscar-nominated Jack Kruschen, as Lemmon’s doctor neighbor, refers to the younger man’s perceived sexual dalliances with a wide array of women, on certain evenings, as a “twi-night double header.”) Bruce Block, who delivers an outstanding commentary carried over from the previous release, has a visual background — which, when combined with his massive research, makes for a wall-to-wall informative two hours.

This Arrow version also adds a slew of featurettes that include a Wilder archival interview where he speaks extensively and sweetly about Diamond and a sturdy booklet with critical writings more on the ball than some of the original reviews. From what I’ve seen to date, Arrow has become one of those companies whose name on the box means you can go to the bank, and this fresh viewing has, for me, been somewhat of a revelation. And this despite the fact that The Apartment has always been one of my favorite films since seeing it in a summer drive-in double bill the following year with Elmer Gantry — quite a night for a then recent 14-year-old and one that killed Disney Fred MacMurray’s for me forever. Matter of fact, I’d walked across the street to see Some Like It Hot in ’59 immediately after exiting the Fred-Walt original of The Shaggy Dog, and even then, the comparison was one of “Give me a break.”

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Apartment’ and ‘Captain From Castile’