Posted on Friday, March 6th, 2015 by Angie Han
As Mad Men prepares to come to an end, Matthew Weiner is taking a moment to look back at its roots. The series creator has offered up a list of 10 films that influenced Mad Men, ranging from Billy Wilder‘s The Apartment to David Lynch‘s Blue Velvet. Click through to read the list, along with descriptions written by Weiner himself.
The 10 films listed below weren’t just inspirational for Weiner — he made them required viewing for the cast and crew, so that the show as a whole is shaped by them. Some provided a realistic look at Mad Men‘s period and setting; others informed its approach to the era or its thematic concerns.
All 10 pictures will be shown at the Museum of the Moving Image between March 14 and April 26. The screening series is presented in conjunction with Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men, an exhibition featuring sets, costumes, props, and more from the AMC show. Ticketing info and other details can be found on the museum’s website.
Unfortunately, watching all ten of these movies won’t make the show last any longer. But it will help you make the most of the episodes we have left. Mad Men returns for the second half of its seventh and final season on April 5, with the series finale set for May 17.
Without further ado, here’s Weiner’s list of the 10 films that influenced Mad Men, along with Weiner’s own notes.
Dir. Billy Wilder. 1960, 125 mins. With Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine.
I had seen this for the first time in film school and was bowled over by the dynamic writing and the passive nature of its hero, Jack Lemmon’s C.C. Baxter. It is definitely a story of its times, firmly rooted in a Manhattan where seemingly regular men behave unscrupulously, and it completely engaged my imagination as a representation of office and sexual politics at the time. It blends humor and pathos effortlessly.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. 1959, 136 mins. With Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint.
This film became an important influence on the pilot because it was shot in New York City, right around the time the first episode takes place. While more overtly stylized than we wanted to imitate, we felt the low angles and contemporary feel were a useful reflection of our artistic mindset. I had studied the film in depth at USC film school and absorbed much of its “ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances” narrative drive. It is worth noting that Cary Grant is playing an Adman named Roger, who is forced to assume another man’s identity.
Dir. David Lynch. 1987, 120 mins. With Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper.
Remarkably original for its time, this film had an impact on my generation that can’t be underestimated. I saw it as I was finishing college and applied to film school soon after. Indefinable in genre, Blue Velvet moves from murder mystery to film noir to black comedy to coming-of-age story, almost from scene to scene. With stylistic richness and psychological complexity, it celebrates the horror of the mundane and is filled with reference to a kitschy and ironic “’50s” milieu. This incredible observation informed much of the 1980s and became an inspiration for the series and its attempt to equally revise our mythical perception of the period.
LES BONNES FEMMES
Dir. Claude Chabrol. 1960, 100 mins. With Bernadette Lafont, Clotilde Joano, Stéphane Audran.
I first saw this in film school and shared it to help the production design of the pilot because it was shot in the streets of Paris, with little embellishment, at exactly the time we were trying to recreate. The thematic aspects were valuable as well, as the film tells the everyday story of four bored working women led astray by their romantic fantasies. My favorite sequence, a kind of postscript to the whole film, is particularly relevant to the series as it features an unknown woman looking right down the lens at the audience.
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. 1958, 128 mins. With James Stewart, Kim Novak.
Released to negative reviews, it now ranks for many as the greatest film ever made. I had not seen it before the show began, but finally caught it on a break after the first season. I was overwhelmed with its beauty, mystery, and obsessive detail. I remember watching the camera dolly-in on Kim Novak’s hair and thinking, “this is exactly what we are trying to do.” Vertigo feels like you are watching someone else’s dream.
Dir. Fielder Cook. 1956, 83 mins. With Van Heflin, Everett Sloane, Ed Begley.
I saw this film version as a child on sick day from middle school; it was originally written and produced for live television in 1955. Rod Serling ingeniously creates a boardroom passion play with a chilling first-person climax that I never forgot. We used it often over the life of the series to get a sense of the real offices and to see how virtue and ambition can clash when the older generation is pushed aside and ruthless business confronts humanity.
Dir. Delbert Mann. 1964, 114 mins. With Glenn Ford, Geraldine Page, Angela Lansbury.
Stumbling upon this film gave me the impetus to finally write the pilot. I was taken by this mainstream Hollywood film that reflected a very casual attitude towards sex, something that seemed uncharacteristic to my preconceptions of the era. With its glib bachelor hero and dowdy, conservative ingénue, it tells a tale of moral corruption and heartbreaking duplicity in the form of a light comedy. As Glenn Ford tries to change his ways and take responsibility for his meaningless romances in glamorous Manhattan, I found a jumping-off point for the series.
THE BACHELOR PARTY
Dir. Delbert Mann. 1957, 92 mins. With Don Murray, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden.
Originally written and produced for live television in 1953, this film reteams writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Delbert Mann, and reflects the painful realism of their previous collaboration, the Oscar-winning film Marty. The “swinging bachelor” was a trope of fiction at this time, but this film poetically undoes the clichés of male camaraderie and presents both the issues of fidelity and loneliness with an unflinching eye.
THE BEST OF EVERYTHING
Dir. Jean Negulesco. 1959, 121 mins. With Hope Lange, Stephen Boyd, Suzy Parker, Joan Crawford.
A highly stylized and star-studded adaptation of Rona Jaffe’s 1958 best-seller, this film became part of the group mind-set for the pilot. Although I felt that it was a visually glamorized, and extremely melodramatic, I could see that its story was a well-observed representation of working women in New York at the time. The workings of the office, the romantic complications, and the living situations all smacked of the truth. Like many popular films of the time, it helped to inform our characters—they certainly would have seen it, and it would have had an impact on their real expectations.
THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY
Dir. Arthur Hiller. 1964, 115 mins. With James Garner, Julie Andrews, Melvyn Douglas.
I saw this first in film school and was taken immediately with Paddy Chayefsky’s ironic and rhythmic dialogue and by its deep anti-war sentiment, which was shocking because it was rarely discussed in the context of the allies in World War II. James Garner’s portrayal of Charlie, a callow and glib womanizer who has given up on humanity and is then forced into heroism, influenced our attempt to recreate the mid-century male mindset and its relationship to existential absurdity.