Mad Men
At the Movies

Films Reflecting the Era of the
Late 1950s to Early-Mid 1960s

Introduction - Part 1

Introduction: Mad Men's Movie References

Series creator Matthew Weiner scripted AMC's wildly-successful, Emmy Award-winning Mad Men show, airing from 2007 to 2015. He deliberately made a number of cultural and historical references in many of the episodes, including those from literature, movies, TV shows, fashion and music.

References to famous films of the time helped to add authenticity to the storyline, provided a realistic depiction of the tumultuous historical period, and sometimes provided a meta-textual commentary on the show's themes and characters. These filmic reference points were part of the social and cultural times (or zeitgeist) in which the show's story was set. People working on the show were required to view them as part of their ongoing education about the late 1950s and early-to-mid 1960s.

Some of the film titles described below were featured prominently in the series while others were only mentioned in passing. Some were made and current during the "Mad Men" era, while others are more contemporary films looking back at the retro period.

For example, Bye Bye Birdie (1963) inspired one of Sterling Cooper's ad campaigns for a diet cola product in Season 3, and lead character Don Draper played hookey with his son to go see Planet of the Apes (1968) in Season 6. Other films, like Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Les Bonnes Femmes (1960, Fr.), among many others, influenced the tone and style of the series. One of the show's recurring stars, Robert Morse (as senior partner Bertram Cooper of the Sterling Cooper ad agency) had originally appeared in a 60's era musical about corporate America, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967).

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Mad Men at the Movies: Movie References
(chronological by film title)
Introduction - Part 1 | Part 2

Mad Men's Movie References (1945-1960)
(chronological by title)
Title Screen
Film Title-Year-Director-Length-Synopsis

The Lost Weekend (1945)
d. Billy Wilder, 101 minutes

A Best Picture-winning film - and a ground-breaking film, based on Charles Jackson's 1944 novel by co-screenwriters Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder and filmed in NYC. The Lost Weekend was a classic, melodramatic, realistically-grim and uncompromising "social-problem" film of the 1940s, about the controversial subject of alcoholism, told partially in flashback. Rather than join his brother Wick Birnam (Phillip Terry) on a weekend outing to the country, talented New York aspiring novel writer Don Birnam (Oscar-winning Ray Milland) - a chronic alcoholic with writer's block - spent a 'lost weekend' on a wild, self-destructive drinking binge. Eluding his persistently supportive girlfriend Helen St. James (Jane Wyman), he desperately trudged down Third Avenue on Yom Kippur attempting to find an open pawnshop to hock his own typewriter for another drink. In Bellevue Hospital's alcohol detoxification ward (shot on location) after a debilitating alcoholic binge, he awakened to shrieking inmates suffering the DTs, and suffered torment from sadistic male nurse 'Bim' Nolan (Frank Faylen). In his apartment, Birnam experienced hallucinations of a mouse attacked by a bat. He narrowly avoided committing suicide by shooting himself in the 'optimistic' ending. He vowed to write about his 'lost weekend' in a novel titled The Bottle.

Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
d. Elia Kazan, 118 minutes

The compelling and controversial film (at the time) was adapted by Moss Hart from Laura Z. Hobson's best-selling novel (originally serialized in Cosmopolitan), although now somewhat dated in its impact. It was the top grossing picture for 20th Century Fox in 1948, and one of the first Hollywood films to confront the problem of anti-Semitism, bigotry and religious prejudice. This morality tale was one of a number of films that explored serious social issues in the 1940s. The film's title referred to the "gentleman's agreement" practice of Gentiles (non-Jews) discriminating against Jews. Kazan's startling, Best Picture-winning sober drama was a powerful, sentimental and melodramatic story about a non-Jewish magazine reporter-journalist Philip Schuyler Green (Gregory Peck), a recently-divorced single father. He had writer's block about a new assignment - an expose-article on the subject of anti-Semitism for his liberal Smith Weekly magazine publisher John Minify (Albert Dekker) - until he decided to go undercover and pose as a Jew (with the name Phil Greenberg) to have a first-hand experience. Predictably, he encountered prejudice, scorn and hatred. His son Tommy (Dean Stockwell) was bullied in school (and called names such as "dirty Jew and stinking kike"), and his complacent, close-minded socialite girlfriend Kathy Lucy (Dorothy McGuire), niece of Smith Weekly's editor, was snubbed by her Darien, Connecticut friends. Green experienced religious abuse and bias when rejected for a hotel room. The magazine's sharp-tongued fashion editor, a counterpoint to Green, was Anne Dettrey (Oscar-winning Celeste Holm), and his childhood Jewish friend was Dave Goldman (John Garfield). Deeply-rooted prejudice and underlying anti-Semitism were revealed in his friends, colleagues, and casual acquaintances.

A Star is Born (1954)
d. George Cukor, 176 minutes

A classic tearjerker, the first re-make of William Wellman's non-musical, classic 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. It was inspired by What Price Hollywood? (1932) also directed by Cukor. The emotionally-intense psycho-drama also hinted at the real-life troubles and problems (five marriages) in the career of its female star - Judy Garland - a victim of the Hollywood studio system - during the film's making. It was Garland's comeback and self-referential film (after she had been dismissed from her lead role in Annie Get Your Gun (1950)), and then suffered from alcoholic binges and suicide attempts. Young aspiring newcomer-star Esther Blodgett's (Judy Garland) singing career was launched in Hollywood - as Vicki Lester, by a fading, alcoholic film star Norman Maine (James Mason) whose popularity was on the decline. Their marriage was tested by the tragic consequences of his personal self-destruction, disintegration and loss of fame, especially in the Academy Awards Banquet Ceremony scene when Norman accidentally slapped her. His stunning suicidal demise was inevitable (he committed suicide by walking into the ocean), but duly honored by his wife onstage at the Shrine Theatre when she proudly introduced herself as Mrs. Norman Maine. Included Garland's memorable songs: "The Man That Got Away" and the main production number "Born In a Trunk."

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956)
d. Nunnally Johnson, 153 minutes

Based on the 1955 novel by Sloan Wilson, Gregory Peck portrayed Everyman Tom Rath, who was still haunted by memories of WWII. He faced issues with conforming and reintegrating back into society - in both his career and married life. With homemaker wife Betsy (Jennifer Jones) in the suburbs in the mid-1950s, he struggled to fit into the post-war period as a corporate member of society. However, he told himself: "I never wanted to get into this rat race, but now that I'm in it, I think I'd be an idiot not to play it the way everybody else plays it." In flashbacks to the war years ten years earlier that continually plagued him, Tom recalled how he accidentally killed his good friend Hank with a hand-grenade, and impregnated young Italian Maria Montagne (Marisa Pavan) - a secret he still kept (and was now forced to acknowledge). He never believed he would return home alive from the war. Discontented and suffering from a number of problems, he commuted to NYC from Connecticut to a Manhattan PR job (writing for a mental health campaign) for the New York-based United Broadcasting Corporation. He came to realize that the success of his boss, network president Ralph Hopkins (Fredric March), came at the cost of personal happiness - something that was also happening to him. Tom had a dissatisfied, pushy and overwrought wife, inheritance issues with his suburban house when his grandmother's will was contested, and bratty TV-addicted children. In the conclusion, Tom decided to forgo career advancement in favor of spending more time with his family as a '9 to 5' man.

Patterns (1956)
d. Fielder Cook, 83 minutes

Originally produced and written as a teleplay about corporate big business by Twilight Zone's Rod Serling (and first airing on The Kraft Television Theatre in 1955), this boardroom-office melodrama featured the sensational tagline: "Ruthless Men And Ambitious Women...Clawing For Control Of A Billion Dollar Empire!!!" The B/W drama about 'gray flannel suits', filmed in a Brooklyn studio and on-location in NYC, was a compelling portrait of industrial giant Ramsey & Co. The corporation was headed by ruthless, menacing, profit-driven business executive Walter Ramsey (Everett Sloane). Other characters were aging, long-time second-in-command aide and exec. VP William "Bill" Briggs (Ed Begley), and young and ambitious industrial engineer Fred Staples (Van Heflin) who was brought in by the demanding Ramsey to replace Briggs as plant manager. Ramsey's devious plan was to bring an exasperated Briggs to the brink of resignation or retirement rather than firing him - in fact, Briggs soon died of a heart-attack from stress, degradation and humiliation. In a showdown with Ramsey, Fred was then challenged to assume the secondary position and also compete for the top job - replacing Ramsey. Fred was enticed with a double salary, stock options, and an unlimited expense account. Fred accepted the VP position, then threatened that he would never give Ramsey any peace as his second-in-command. Supporting characters included Fred's wife Nancy (Beatrice Straight), Fred's reassigned secretary Marge Fleming (Elizabeth Wilson) (who previously worked for Briggs), and Ramsey's cool and efficient secretary Miss Margaret Lanier (Joanna Roos).

The Bachelor Party (1957)
d. Delbert Mann, 92 minutes

Scriptwriter Paddy Chayefsky adapted his own 1953 teleplay (airing on The Philco Television Playhouse) for this feature-length male angst drama - an ensemble film. The intimate film told about the loneliness, insecurities, anxieties and frustrations of five middle-class, co-working male bookkeepers. At first glance, they appeared to be debonair and carefree. They held a bachelor party in a restaurant for thirtyish, timid and virginal Arnold Craig (Philip Abbott), who was about to be married to a war widow. The group included: protagonist Charlie Samson (Don Murray), older married asthma-suffering Walter (E.G. Marshall), swinging bachelor Eddie Watkins (Jack Warden), and henpecked married man Kenneth (Larry Blyden). During the party and night-clubbing/bar-hopping later on in the evening, all the characters began to reflect on their lives, concerns and issues about love and marriage. Staid, hard-working, struggling married man Charlie had second thoughts about his own marital ties (with newly-pregnant wife Helen (Patricia Smith)) - he felt trapped, restless and bored, and maybe not ready for fatherhood. The troubled Charlie was tempted to have a one-night affair with a young, footloose 'good-time-girl' bohemian - credited as the Existentialist (Oscar-nominated Carolyn Jones), whom he met on the way to Greenwich Village. After a few drinks, Walter revealed himself as a pathetic, despairing and self-loathing hypochondriac, who was sacrificing his health to keep his boy in school. The nervous groom-to-be Arnold also became ambivalent and fearful about his impending marriage and called off the nuptials (although he sobered up and changed his mind), and desperate bachelor Eddie (who was initially envied for his carefree, lady-killing existence) was still alone and struggling to pick up a woman at the bar.

Vertigo (1958)
d. Alfred Hitchcock, 128 minutes

Hitchcock's most complex, most analyzed, compelling masterpiece - an intriguing psychological film involving a man's compulsive obsession to exploitatively manipulate and transform a woman to match his fantasy. Vertigo-suffering, acrophobic, retired detective John 'Scottie' Ferguson (James Stewart) was hired to follow the wanderings in San Francisco of the suicidal wife of an old college friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) - a cool, blonde named Madeleine (Kim Novak). After rescuing her from a suicidal jump into the Bay, he fell in obsessive love with her. Only by the film's uncompromising conclusion did he learn that he had been duped by her lower-class double Judy (also Novak).

The Best of Everything (1959)
d. Jean Negulesco, 121 minutes

Jean Negulesco's glossy, explosive, and ahead-of-its-time soap opera was an underrated CinemaScopic campy melodrama. Adapted from Rona Jaffe's 1958 best-selling novel, it was the urban equivalent of Peyton Place. One of its most famous quotes was: "Here's to men! Bless their clean-cut faces and dirty little minds!" The influential film was advertised as a cinematic work that: "Nakedly Explores the Female Jungle Where Women Fight and Love Their Way to the Top - To Get the Things and Men They Want!" It also stated in the trailer that: "It undresses the ambitions and emotions of the girls who invade the glamour world of the big city, seeking success, love, marriage, and the best of everything...and who often settle for much less." It was Hollywood's look at the new sexual morality of the time ("This is a story of the female jungle, of the girls who didn't marry at twenty, and of the men who wanted them - but not as wives"). It told about three aspiring young starlet-secretaries in the glamorous world of publishing in New York City, at the Fabian Publishing Company. Its social themes included the world of working women and adultery, love vs. career, unwed pregnancy, abortion, casting couch seduction, and alcoholism. The three struggling yet ambitious working women looking for men to marry (and fulfillment) included secretary Caroline Bender (Hope Lange), naive and virginal April Morrison (Diane Baker), and aspiring actress Gregg Adams (Suzy Parker). The film also implied what might happen to a working woman if she never married - the result would be the ruthless, bitter, unhappy, sterile and calculating editor Amanda Farrow (aging star Joan Crawford), who was engaged in an unsatisfying affair with a married man. The chain-smoking Amanda eventually married an old acquaintance, a widower from Illinois, but was dissatisfied with her new life of domesticity and returned to the work world.

North By Northwest (1959)
d. Alfred Hitchcock, 136 minutes

An all-time classic suspense film with great intrigue and set-pieces. It was a tale of mistaken identity when perfectly-dressed Manhattan (Madison Avenue) ad executive Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), a charming womanizer, was chased cross-country by foreign operatives led by the head of the spy ring Philip Vandamm (James Mason). He was also pursued by the CIA, the police (for an alleged murder - a frameup at the UN), and mysterious blonde Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint).

The Apartment (1960)
d. Billy Wilder, 125 minutes

A Best Picture winner. Wilder's classic, caustically-witty, satirically cynical, melodramatic comedy about corporate politics and climbing the corporate ladder was also a bittersweet romance. An ambitious, lowly, misguided and young insurance clerk C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) generously lent out the keys to his NYC apartment to his company's higher-up, philandering executives for romantic, adulterous, extra-marital trysts, including his callous married boss J. D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). The building's elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) was the latest conquest of Baxter's boss. Melancholy and vulnerable, she attempted suicide in his apartment. Baxter's next-door, philosophizing doctor/neighbor Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) convinced Baxter to confront the craven ethics of his superiors - and he won the affections of Fran.

Les Bonnes Femmes (1960, Fr./It.) (aka The Good Time Girls)
d. Claude Chabrol, 100 minutes

Chabrol's film was one of the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) films of its time (although never released in the US), and set in Paris (although photographed as drab and dingy). The dark and cynical melodrama followed the exploits of four "good time girls," all shop-girl clerks in an electrical appliance store, as they sought love, excitement, freedom, and escape at nighttime. However, each one had very different aspirations in life. The four included carefree party-girl Jane (Bernadette Lafont), aspiring night-club singer Ginette (Stéphane Audran), and marriage-fixated/engaged and social-climbing Rita (Lucille Saint-Simon). The main protagonist, sweet, shy, demure and sensitive Jacqueline (Clotilde Joano), a hopeless and vulnerable romantic, was tragically drawn to a mysterious, black-leathered motorcyclist Andre (Mario David), who was stalking her. He was mistaken as her long-awaited Prince Charming and turned out to be her executioner.

Mad Men at the Movies: Movie References
(chronological by film title)
Introduction - Part 1 | Part 2

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