1961’s Golden Globe winner for Best Comedy, The Apartment, was by general consensus the year’s best film. It was also the New York Critics’ and the Academy’s choice and one of the year’s biggest moneymakers. And in 2002 it would be voted 14th best movie ever made in Sight and Sound’s poll of international critics. Both Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine won Golden Globes in the comedy/musical category.
The film was one of the last three black and white movies to win best picture Oscars, the other two being Schindler’s List and The Artist. It was shot in black and white as an homage to David Lean’s Brief Encounter, which was the inspiration for the film.
Billy Wilder, who both produced and directed the film, had won the Golden Globe the year before for Some Like It Hot, and he was no stranger to HFPA awards having won previously for The Lost Weekend and Sunset Boulevard, Best Motion Picture Drama.
The role of Sheldrake was written for Paul Douglas, but after he died unexpectedly before the start of production, Fred MacMurray was cast as the sleazy executive. At the time MacMurray was the stalwart of Walt Disney family movies and was criticized for accepting the role, but MacMurray hadn’t forgotten that Wilder had given him his best role, again an unsavory part, in Double Indemnity.
Why Wilder used the theme from a score that had been written for a 1947 British potboiler While I Live by composer Charles Williams (Wikipedia erroneously credits it to another British film, The Romantic Age) we’ll never know. Could it be that Billy knew him from the old country, where his given name was Isaac Cozerbreit? At any rate, Williams must have been surprised and delighted when “The Theme from The Apartment” was released as a single and became a number one hit worldwide.
50 years later The Apartment is still fondly remembered. The same cannot be said of 1960's Best Musical Golden Globe winner: Song Without End was a surprise win, but in all fairness, 1960 was a very lean year for musicals. Its main competition, Bells Are Ringing and Can-Can had very few devotees. The film was a “prestige” picture, a feast for classical music fans, highlighting the music of Liszt, Berlioz, Verdi, and Wagner. Nominally the story of pianist-composer Franz Liszt, Song was the brainchild of studio head Harry Cohn, who hoped to repeat the success of 1942's A Song to Remember, which made Chopin a household name.
Cohn assigned Charles Vidor to direct (his previous hits for the studio were A Song to Remember, Gilda, and Cover Girl) and persuaded English actor Dirk Bogarde to come to Hollywood to make the film. Two weeks into production Vidor died, and George Cukor took over. Despite a European cast headed by Capucine and Genevieve Page, the film was a box office (and critical) failure and soon sunk into oblivion.
Bogarde who later starred in Joseph Losey and Visconti classics had nothing pleasant to say about his Hollywood experience and never returned.