Mad Men
At the Movies

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

Part 2

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

Mad Men's Movie References (1961-present)
(chronological by title)
Title Screen
Film Title-Year-Director-Length-Synopsis

Lover Come Back (1961)
d. Delbert Mann, 107 minutes

This vintage, second Doris Day-Rock Hudson lightweight satirical romantic comedy again featured two themes: mistaken identity and unexpected romance. The feature-length sitcom starred Hudson as playboyish, heaving-drinking Jerry Webster, ad executive of a Madison Avenue company working for incompetent boss Peter Ramsey (Tony Randall). Doris Day portrayed Carol Templeton, the prim new account ad executive at the rival firm of Brackett headed by Mr. John Brackett (Howard St. John). She was disgruntled with Webster for alleged unethical methods (including bribes, booze, and babes) to acquire a large key account from J. Paxton Miller (Jack Oakie). After she discovered that a new intoxicating product (fictional) known as "VIP" was being created by reclusive chemist Dr. Linus Tyler (Jack Kruschen), Carol was determined to win the account, but things became complicated when she mistakenly believed that Webster was "Dr. Tyler" and the two started to fall in love.

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)
d. George Sidney, 112 minutes

The Broadway hit show of 1960, Bye Bye Birdie, was adapted for the screen by Irving Brecher and directed by George Sidney - it was the first Broadway musical to include rock songs. In its lampooning or parody of hip-gyrating rock-and-roll idol Elvis "The King" Presley (who was drafted into the Army in 1958), it told about an Elvis Presley-styled pop star named Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson). Conrad was a beer-drinking hillbilly who caused swooning chaos among teens upon his arrival in the midwestern town of Sweet Apple, Ohio. Dick Van Dyke reprised his role in the film as struggling song-writer Albert Peterson (he sang the memorable "Put on a Happy Face" to his secretary-fiancee Rosie DeLeon (Janet Leigh)), who had a manipulative and domineering mother, Mae Peterson (Maureen Stapleton). 22 year-old Ann-Margret appeared as nubile 16 year-old vibrant Ohio high-schooler Kim McAfee - as a member of Birdie's fan club, she was the lucky one chosen to receive a farewell kiss ("One Last Kiss") from the rock idol (just before he was drafted into the military) on the popular weekly TV variety program, The Ed Sullivan Show (although fictitious in the film). In the star-making opening credits sequence in which she flipped her skirt and tossed her hair, Kim sang the title song before a blue-screen and in a wind tunnel. Throughout the film, Albert had to manipulate his way around Kim's protective father Harry McAfee (Paul Lynde), and Kim had to deal with her jealous boyfriend Hugo Peabody (singing idol Bobby Rydell). Also memorable was the split-screen, gossipy musical telephone sequence (with live action and animation) titled "The Telephone Hour," and Kim's father Harry singing "Kids" in the family kitchen with the familiar lyric: "What's the matter with kids today?"

The Americanization of Emily (1964)
d. Arthur Hiller, 115 minutes

This entertaining and daring satirical black comedy, with a screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, was about the absurdities of war. It was set in 1944 during WWII - the main character was charming, callow, larcenous, scheming American Navy officer, Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. Madison (James Garner). His main job, residing in a swanky London hotel, was to be a "dog-robber" - to make sure his superior general, commanding officer Rear Adm. William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas), was comfortable and supplied (with everything from Hershey bars, to liquor, food, and Cokes). He was despised and called a womanizer ("a complete rascal") by his prim British war-widow motor-pool chauffeur and ambulance driver Miss Emily Barham (Julie Andrews), who had strong anti-American prejudices (what he termed: "sentimental contempt"). She hated his loud and brash ways, wastefulness, and avowed cowardice - although they did have romantic feelings for each other. Their situation drastically changed when the commanding admirals decided that they wanted the first American casualty of an upcoming dangerous mission (the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach) to be a sailor - to be filmed for PR's sake, and Madison was ordered to arrange it when Admiral Jessup suffered a nervous breakdown. In the film's twisting conclusion, it appeared that Madison was killed by an exploding shell on the beach, and was subsequently lauded as a hero. However, he was wounded - with Jessup now planning to dub him "the first man on Omaha Beach."

Dear Heart (1964)
d. Delbert Mann, 114 minutes

This offbeat, sensitive black and white romantic comedy told about a "most unconventional love affair" that occurred over two and a half days between two middle-aged out-of-town conventioneers - they were total opposites. It also was taglined as: "'Dear Heart' Evie Jackson...tonight, she'd get herself a man and they'd never call her that again." Arriving in New York City for an annual Postmasters' Convention, single, lonely and dowdy spinster Evie Jackson (Geraldine Page), a post-mistress from small-town Ohio, met bachelor Harry Mork (Glenn Ford), a greeting cards traveling salesman. He was engaged and about to marry shallow widow Phyllis (Angela Lansbury) from Altoona, PA (the "tomato from Altoona"). Due to circumstances involving his soon-to-be stepson - Phyllis' 18-year-old, college student-son Patrick (Michael Anderson, Jr.) and his crazy girlfriend Zola (Joanna Crawford), Harry was invited to share a room with Evie. Inevitably, their destinies would converge further.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967)
d. David Swift, 121 minutes

This musical comedy film version (with Bob Fosse choreography) virtually duplicated Frank Loesser's Tony Award-winning Broadway musical from 1961 - it included two stars reprising their roles from the stage: Robert Morse (as boyish, gap-toothed ex-window washer and ambitious, up-and-coming corporate executive J. Pierpont "Ponty" Finch), and Rudy Vallee (as pompous boss Jasper B. Biggley). In this cynical and satirical look at corporate America in the mid-1960s, with all its corporate chicanery, gray flannel suits, executive washrooms, and office sexism, the strongly-ambitious 27 year-old Finch bought a self-help guidebook titled: "How to Succeed in Business..." to begin his ascent up the corporate ladder, using mostly devious and sneaky methods. He took a job in the NY offices of the World Wide Wicket Company, working under eccentric boss Biggley and ingratiating himself by posing as a graduate of Grand Old Ivy, Biggley's alma mater. Soon, he became VP of Advertising, and began a romance with cute secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Michele Lee in her film debut). At the same time, Biggley was having an affair with hip-swiveling, curvaceous, high-pitch voiced, but incompetent office worker Hedy LaRue (Maureen Arthur), his secret live-in girlfriend. Finch arranged a tryst between rival Bud Frump (Anthony Teague), Biggley's bratty, whiny and nepharious nephew and Hedy, thereby eliminating the co-worker. He also disposed of troublesome Mr. Ovington (Murray Matheson) by exposing that his alma mater was Biggley's rival college. His successful advancement eventually brought him to the position of Chairman of the Board. [Note: In a nod to the TV show Mad Men, Robert Morse portrayed Bertram Cooper, the eccentric, Ayn Rand-loving, bow-tie-wearing, shoeless founding partner of Sterling Cooper, the Madison Avenue ad agency.]

Valley of the Dolls (1967)
d. Mark Robson, 123 minutes

Based upon Jacqueline Susann's 1966 best-selling book, this trashy, 'it's-so-bad-it's-good' soap-opera feature-length film became Fox Studios' top money-maker hit for 1968, although it was severely criticized by most film critics. The title of the trashy melodramatic film referred to 'uppers' and 'downers' - barbiturate pills. Three fame-seeking, aspiring starlets who became 'corrupted' by Hollywood were bitchy Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke), Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins), and Jennifer North (Sharon Tate). The campy classic included scenes of their sexual dalliances (never very explicit) and their failings due to pill-popping (pills=dolls) and drinking. Most of the sex (filmed in silhouette), scandal, and drug abuse now seem tame by today's standards, although appropriate for the 1960s.

Planet of the Apes (1968)
d. Franklin J. Schaffner, 112 minutes

A thought-provoking and engrossing science-fiction film classic - a loose adaptation (by formerly blacklisted Michael Wilson and Rod Serling) of the Pierre Boulle novel La Planète Des Singes (Monkey Planet). The story was about four NASA astronauts, including Colonel 'George' Taylor (Charlton Heston), who had traveled for centuries in cyrogenic suspension. After a crash landing on an Earth-like planet, they found themselves stranded in a strange and remote place dominated by English-speaking simians who lived in a multi-layered civilization. The apes dominated society, and humans (who possessed few rights) had been reduced to subservient mute slaves and were even hunted as animals. In danger of being castrated or lobotomized, Taylor cried out the memorable: "Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" The apes in this exciting and engaging action thriller included archaeologist Dr. Cornelius (Malcolm McDowall), his scientist fiancee Zira (Kim Hunter) - an 'animal psychologist,' and malevolent, arrogant, government orangutan leader Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans). This Vietnam War, Cold War and Civil Rights era film made many subtle points about race, animal rights, the establishment, class, xenophobia and discrimination. The film was most noted for its twist ending when George rode down a beach on horseback in the Forbidden Zone with beautiful mute primitive Nova (Linda Harrison), and suddenly he stopped when he saw something, and dismounted to stare upwards. As the camera panned forward toward Taylor, through a spiked object, he exclaimed: "Oh, my God! I'm back, I'm home. All the time, it was..." He dropped to his knees: "We finally really did it." He pounded his fist into the sand and railed against Earth's generations almost 2,000 years earlier that had destroyed his home planet's civilization with a devastating nuclear war: "You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! Goddamn you all to hell!" The full object came into view as the camera panned backward - the spiked crown of a battered Statue of Liberty buried waist-deep in beach sand. Planet of the Apes was also a pioneer in modern movie marketing - it spawned four sequels, a 2001 remake, and two reboots (2011 and 2014).

Rosemary's Baby (1968)
d. Roman Polanski, 136 minutes

This was Polish director Roman Polanski's first American feature film and his second, scary horror film - following his first disturbing film in English titled Repulsion (1965, UK) - which was also about a mentally-unstable, sexually-terrified woman (Catherine Deneuve) who had been left alone in her apartment. This film was adapted from Ira Levin's best-seller - a convincing, creepy, psychological, Satanist horror/thriller about a young pregnant wife who suspected and had strange premonitions about diabolical forces (a witches' coven) threatening her unborn baby. Young newlywed couple: Rosemary (Mia Farrow) - with a fertile imagination, and aspiring, out-of-work actor/husband Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) moved into a gothic NYC apartment complex in Central Park West. They met their overly-solicitous and intrusive elderly couple next-door neighbors Roman (Sidney Blackmer) and nosy Minnie Castevet (Ruth Gordon), and soon Guy's acting career turned promising. But after a nightmarish dream of making love to a Beast, the paranoid, haunted, and hysterical woman believed herself impregnated not by her husband but by Satan, so that her baby could be used in the New Yorkers' evil cult rituals, with coven members including Roman and Minnie. The creepy film ended with the devil's flesh-and-blood baby in a black-draped cradle, surrounded by coven members. After Rosemary took her first look and her eyes widened in terror ("What have you done to its eyes?"), she began caring for the baby and gently rocked Satan's spawn to sleep. It had effectively made the point that evil surrounds us in the alienated, every-day, mundane city environment.

The Swimmer (1968)
d. Frank Perry, 94 minutes

This was a strange arthouse sleeper film, much neglected and misunderstood when it was first released. The surreal allegorical film about a revelatory mid-life crisis-journey was based upon John Cheever's 1964 short story "The Swimmer." On a sunny summer afternoon, eccentric, middle-aged advertising executive Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) impulsively decided to return to his affluent home from a pool cocktail party by 'swimming' the distance of 8 miles. The fit, virile, self-satisfied and tanned Ned was obsessed with the idea of stopping at the homes and pools of friends and neighbors of his upper-class, hollow and soulless Connecticut community along the way, forming a virtual 'river' (dubbed Lucinda's River after his wife) that connected them. Each stop in his journey evoked powerful memories, and revealed more about the self-deluded man's past, distorted memories and disintegrating life - and his inability to face reality. Although nostalgic, he was forced to honestly confront where he was in life. Rather than living an ideal existence, he had become a shallow, dysfunctional and tortured suburbanite who had failed in his personal life. At the Graham's pool, he admitted to an indifferent Betty Graham (Kim Hunter) that he once had a secret love for her. Elderly Mrs. Hammar (Cornelia Otis Skinner) ordered him off her property. In another encounter with nubile 20-year-old ex-babysitter Julie Hooper (Janet Landgard) who joined him for part of his swim, he frightened her away when she revealed a schoolgirl crush on him and he became inappropriately amorous. Others included lonesome and hung-over Joan (Joan Rivers in her film debut), a pair of nudists, and stage actress and miffed ex-mistress Shirley Abbott (Janice Rule) who assaulted him with the truth of their relationship - she never loved him. He was met with hostility and criticized by others for his snobby wife and two out-of-control, estranged unloving daughters. During his last stop after being completely stripped of his protected ego, he arrived during a rainstorm (cold and shivering) at his own empty, locked, deserted and abandoned house - indicative of his recent financial troubles and the real truth about his unraveling broken-down life.

The Arrangement (1969)
d. Elia Kazan, 125 minutes

Kazan's introspective, pretentious R-rated soap-opera melodrama (rated as one of his worst films), was based upon his own trashy best-selling 1967 novel. It was a bold, semi-experimental film with some nudity and sexual situations - very representative of the frank and honest films emerging in the late 1960s. It told about the mid-life crisis of middle-aged, rich, controlling LA ad executive Eddie Anderson (Kirk Douglas), a 2nd generation Greek immigrant - né Evangelos. Although unsatisfyingly married to beautiful, nagging loyal and smart-minded Florence (Deborah Kerr), Eddie was engaged in a long-running extra-marital affair with a beautiful mistress, his research assistant. He attempted suicide by deliberately steering his sports car convertible into the undercarriage of a truck next to him on the freeway. After surviving and hospitalization, and refusing to return to work, he subsequently explored and reevaluated his life and how he had squandered his own talent. He attempted to reorganize his contemptuous life - seemingly reduced to a series of perfect "arrangements" (compromises and adjustments) that had destroyed his self-respect. Numerous convoluted flashbacks revealed his affair (resulting in a child) with married, free-spirited mistress Gwen (Faye Dunaway), who had abandoned him a year earlier. She had told him that he had acquired a vacuous, empty soul after selling out himself to acquire a multi-million dollar ad contract with a tobacco company ("Zephyr—the Clean Cigarette!" ads played continually). At one point, she asked: "What you could have been. What happened to you, Eddie? Must kill you to think what you might have been."

Model Shop (1969, Fr./US)
d. Jacques Demy, 95 minutes

This was the only American feature by French auteur Jacques Demy - a poignant and downbeat drama about a transitory romance and dislocated protagonist in the late 1960s - with the intriguing dreamlike tagline: "Maybe Tomorrow. Maybe Never. Maybe." The film followed 24 hours in the life of directionless, alienated, idealistic and unemployed 26 year-old Los Angeles resident George Matthews (Gary Lockwood), an architect by training. The aimless Angeleno was on the verge of receiving a draft notice and being shipped off to the Vietnam War. Dissatisfied and in a loveless relationship with long-time, dim-witted live-in girlfriend, aspiring blonde actress-model Gloria (Alexandra Hay) (who would soon move out), George also was struggling to raise $100 for his creditors to prevent his vintage MG sports car convertible from being repossessed. He became infatuated with Frenchwoman Cecile (stage-named Lola) (Anouk Aimée), elegantly dressed entirely in white, and at first silently followed her. He learned she was a divorced, world-weary transplanted (and stranded) Parisian who worked in a tawdry "model shop" storefront where patrons rented cameras to take erotic photos of scantily-clad lingerie models - and spent his last $12 to photograph her (for 15 minutes). Her plan was to raise money to return to Paris and her 14 year-old son. After a brief one-night stand and their tenuous passionate connection, he and Lola parted ways, with little possibility of escaping or finding freedom from their circumstances.

Blue Velvet (1986)
d. David Lynch, 120 minutes

Screenwriter and maverick director David Lynch's artistically bizarre, controversial, disturbing, off-beat cult film explored the corrupt, malevolent under-side of small town Americana in the mid-1980s. Blue Velvet was an original look at sex, violence, crime and power under the peaceful exterior of suburbia. Beneath the familiar, peaceful, 'American-dream' cleanliness of the daytime scenes (with the eponymous white picket fence) lurked sleaziness, prostitution, unrestrained violence, and perversity - powerful and potentially-dangerous sexual forces that might be unleashed if not contained. Often criticized for its depiction of aberrant sexual behavior, the surrealistic, psychosexual film was a throwback to art films, 50s B-movies and teenage romances, film noir, and the mystery-suspense genre. Following the collapse of his father in a colorful opening sequence, college boy Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returned to middle-class hometown Lumberton, where he found a severed human ear in an overgrown vacant field. With the help of an innocent, sweet high school teenager Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), he investigated the bizarre mystery of the ear, finding himself involved (and participating) in a frightening, nightmarish world of voyeurism, violent sex, perversion, drug-addiction, and depraved degradation. He encountered nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) (who repeatedly sang Bobby Vinton's "Blue Velvet") enslaved by her sadistic, demoniacal, obscenity-shouting, sexual tormentor and drug-dealer Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), who psycho-sexually blackmailed her while holding her husband and child hostage.

Far From Heaven (2002)
d. Todd Haynes, 107 minutes

This melodramatic, tearjerking romance was deliberately made as film homage to director Douglas Sirk's May-December romance drama All That Heaven Allows (1955), starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman. It was set in the same time period, but was reinterpreted with additional plot elements (sex, profanity, and violence) not possible for Sirk in his repressive era. It was advertised with the question: "What Imprisons Desires of the Heart?" In 1957, upper-class Connecticut housewife and homemaker Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore with her third Oscar nomination) was living a seemingly-perfect, insular life. Then, she found herself in a troubled relationship with her alcoholic husband Frank (Dennis Quaid), a closeted homosexual who was shockingly outed. Her pain, desperation and confusion spiraled out of control, but she for once was guided by her heart. For comfort and friendship, she found herself involved in an inter-racial relationship with kind, sensitive, well-educated, compassionate and non-judgmental African-American gardener and single father Raymond Deagon (Dennis Haysbert). Unfortunately, their socially-taboo friendship was further undermined by prejudiced gossip from Cathy's best friend Eleanor Fine (Patricia Clarkson), dashing its possibilities ("far from heaven"). She also experienced self-doubt, social ostracism, and more internal conflict in the bittersweet conclusion. She decided to give up her contact with Raymond when repercussions became too great and the world could not "see beyond the color, the surface of things."

Revolutionary Road (2008, US/UK)
d. Sam Mendes, 119 minutes

Adapted from Richard Yates' 1961 debut novel, this romantic drama captured the life-draining zeitgeist of the mid-1950s (close to the 1960s era of Mad Men) in its story of a disintegrating marriage. It told about husband Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) in an unrewarding, tedious, humdrum NYC business machine position - and trapped in an unhappy, bleak and miserable marriage with April (Kate Winslet) and two children, who also felt destined to a life of domestic servitude. In addition to engaging in an affair with co-worker Maureen (Zoe Kazan), Frank took the long train trip each workday to the city where he passed through a sea of gray-flannel-clad workers in Grand Central Station. In a wild fantasy, they hoped to leave behind their hopeless, conformist and empty suburban life by selling their picture-perfect western Connecticut house (on Revolutionary Road) and moving to Paris at the end of summer. Reality set in, however, when Frank was about to be promoted (with a larger salary) and April became pregnant again. She also turned to a fling with neighbor Shep Campbell (David Harbour), and a subsequent attempt at self-abortion became deadly.

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

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