The Apartment Plot

Urban Living in American Film and Popular Culture, 1945 to 1975

The Apartment Plot

Book Pages: 342 Illustrations: 55 illustrations, incl. 23 in color Published: November 2010

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Media Studies > Film

Rethinking the significance of films including Pillow Talk, Rear Window, and The Seven Year Itch, Pamela Robertson Wojcik examines the popularity of the “apartment plot,” her term for stories in which the apartment functions as a central narrative device. From the baby boom years into the 1970s, the apartment plot was not only key to films; it also surfaced in TV shows, Broadway plays, literature, and comic strips, from The Honeymooners and The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Subways are for Sleeping and Apartment 3-G. By identifying the apartment plot as a film genre, Wojcik reveals affinities between movies generally viewed as belonging to such distinct genres as film noir, romantic comedy, and melodrama. She analyzes the apartment plot as part of a mid-twentieth-century urban discourse, showing how it offers a vision of home centered on values of community, visibility, contact, mobility, impermanence, and porousness that contrasts with views of home as private, stable, and family-based. Wojcik suggests that the apartment plot presents a philosophy of urbanism related to the theories of Jane Jacobs and Henri Lefebvre. Urban apartments were important spaces for negotiating gender, sexuality, race, and class in mid-twentieth-century America.


The Apartment Plot is a deeply researched and engaging volume standing at the busy intersection of film, cultural, and urban studies…. Reading it will give city dwellers a renewed sense of why they put up with it, and any film lover a wealth of films, both classic and forgotten, to see with fresh eyes.” — Kevin Esch, Film Criticism

“Throughout this thoroughly engaging, imaginative and thought-provoking work, Wojcik captivatingly outlines the apartment plot that ‘reflects and refracts a philosophy of urbanism’ (p. 267) while interrogating the ways in which place and space influence discourses of gender, sexuality, race and class.” — Whitney Monaghan, Media International Australia

“Wojcik convincingly argues that the continuities in cultural discourses surrounding the apartment in American cinema of the period merit the
more systemic categorisation of ‘plot‘. Building on her establishment of the ‘apartment plot‘, she goes on to challenge traditional methods of distinguishing between films on the basis of auteur or genre, and instead sets up a rich and illuminating dialogue between films that span such categories. . . . Most impressive is this book‘s mastery of the critical landscape surrounding the more commented-upon films.” — Gillian Jein, Scope

“Exhaustively researched and brimming with insightful observations, The Apartment Plot is a gift for those intent on studying the architecture that amps the plotline.” — Michael Dalton, M/C Reviews

“Pamela Robertson Wojcik's intriguing book takes an original approach to Hollywood cinema. Her subject is the apartment as setting, which, in films of the post-war decades, she claims, became a space where ‘a philosophy of urbanism’ could be dramatized ‘at a time when the meaning and status of urban living were undergoing a sea change.’ Wojcik argues persuasively that the ‘apartment plot’ imbues films with recurrent themes that transcend genre and director.” — Alexander Jacoby, TLS

“With her volume Wojcik deftly connects the apartment plot to social history. She also offers dozens of close readings of films—readings that often contradict (or at the very least complicate) conventional wisdom about those films. . . . Wojcik offers an almost encyclopedic account of apartment-centered films, such that any postwar film and media scholar will find Wojcik’s careful analysis useful.” — Kathy M. Newman, American Quarterly

“Wojcik . . .succeeds in demonstrating the value of focusing on the apartment, and mise-en-scène more generally, as a heuristic device. Doing so enables her to explore continuities between an otherwise diverse body of films, revealing how cinema both represents and participates in the production of discourses about urban architectures and experiences. As such, the volume makes a valuable contribution to our understandings of the relations among cinematic representations, architecture, and everyday life.” — Hilary Radner, Journal of American History

“Wojcik’s insightful analysis, supported by thorough research, contrasts privacy and community, sight and sound, urban and suburban, married and single life, white and African American neighborhoods, and upper- and lower-class milieus. . . . Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.” — S. R. Kozloff, Choice

“Working with an admirably wide range of additional materials, including periodical and advice literature, advertising, fiction, television, music, building blueprints, and comics . . . Wojcik balances her many disciplines carefully. The book’s overall argument for the ‘apartment story’ as a distinct and important genre, and Wojcik’s embedding of her case studies in migration trends, cultural and social concerns, and shifting ideas about the city and its alternatives is a fresh and convincing addition to studies of postwar media.” — Miriam G. Reumann, Sixties

The Apartment Plot is an imaginative, thoroughly researched, closely observed, accomplished interdisciplinary work on the mid-century ‘apartment plot’ in American film and, to a lesser but important degree, TV, design, print, and sociology. It is a lively and engaging book that both breaks new ground and renovates existing critical edifices.” — Patricia White, co-author of The Film Experience: An Introduction


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Pamela Robertson Wojcik is Associate Professor in the Department of Film, Television, and Theater and Director of the Gender Studies Program at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna, also published by Duke University Press, and the editor of Movie Acting: The Film Reader.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations vii

Preface ix

Introduction: A Philosophy of Urbanism 1

1. A Primer in Urbanism: Rear Window's Archetypal Apartment Plot 47

2. "We Like Our Apartment": The Playboy Indoors 88

3. The Great Reprieve: Modernity, Femininity, and the Apartment 139

4. The Suburbs in the City: The Housewife and the Apartment 180

5. Movin' On Up: The African American Apartment 220

Epilogue: A New Philosophy for a New Century 267

Notes 279

Bibliography 289

Index 303
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4773-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4752-1
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