The talented cast of Mad Men (2010) If you’re a fan of the AMC series Mad Men you’re probably missing the show as much as I am. Season four left me wanting more and I’m eager for season five to start. I know I’m not alone because I often get asked to recommend films that have a “Mad Men feel” or “Mad Men qualities.” A lot of people seem especially eager and willing to watch older movies that they may have overlooked in the past or had no interest in seeing. Mad Men has become an unexpected gift to this film buff.
In the past when I’d recommend a movie like Michael Winner’s I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname (1967) I’d have to try and explain that it’s a “sixties film” and that the male lead (the wonderful Oliver Reed) is a womanizer who is unhappy with his job as well as his wife and mistresses. Naturally, people would just look at me confused and express no interest in seeing it. What did the sixties mean to them? Hippies? The Beatles? Protests? Drugs? Political Assassinations? Hard to say. I just know that I’ve had a hard time convincing people that the 60s were much more than that. Now? All I have to say is Oliver Reed plays a “Don Draper type” and people seem to know exactly what I’m talking about and they actually express interest – you read that right – they express interest – in seeing I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname. And you know what’s even more exciting? Once they actually watch the movie some of them can appreciate aspects of it that would have been completely misunderstood if Mad Men hadn’t paved the way for a better understanding of history and popular culture.
Do I sound crazy? A bit far reaching? Maybe I am, but I honestly think Mad Men is helping some people better understand what life was like for my parents in the 1960s and I value the series for that reason as well as many others. It’s quite simply one of the best-written shows that’s ever been on television and I think it’s changing the way people view the past and experience the future. A lot of old films suddenly don’t seem so old anymore and people are watching them with new eyes. I’d love to write in-depth about my deep appreciation of Mad Men someday but in the meantime, I decided to compile a brief list of films that might appeal to Mad Men fans who are looking for something else to watch on Sunday nights.
Due to the fact that I write about movies a lot and love ‘60s era films many folks have asked me to recommend films that might appeal to MAD MEN fans. I thought I’d compile a short list of suggestions for anyone who is missing MAD MEN right now and looking for something else to watch on Sunday night.
DESK SET (Walter Lang; 1957)
DESK SET teams up one of Hollywood’s most beloved screen couples, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, who play dueling employees at the fictional Federal Broadcasting Network in New York. Tracy plays a business efficiency expert hired to install a massive supercomputer that should improve the workflow of the company but Hepburn is afraid that it will replace the need for flesh & blood employees. The two start off as mortal enemies but over the course of this very funny movie they fall in love. DESK SET happens to be my favorite Hepburn and Tracey film. I love the banter between the two middle-aged actors and the stylish production. Katharine Hepburn is especially terrific here as the independent and determined Bunny Watson trying to look after the women she works with much like I imagine MAD MEN’S Joan Holloway would in similar circumstances. Watching a budding office romance bloom has rarely been so fun and entertaining.
WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? (Frank Tashlin; 1957)
Frank Tashlin’s hilarious robust comedy was ahead of its time and still seems fresh today. The director obviously had a lot of fun satirizing the bizarre world of advertising and the growing impact of television on consumers in WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? The film features Tony Randall in one of his best roles as Rockwell P. Hunter, a struggling ad man who needs a successful sex symbol to help promote a product that he’s selling. Hunter gets more than he bargained for when he enlists the help of the flamboyant Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield). The jokes fly by fast so if you’re not paying attention you might miss a few. With a great cast that includes a very funny Joan Blondell (also in DESK SET) and a surprise appearance from Groucho Marx, WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? should appeal to anyone who enjoys a little kitsch in their comedy.
GIANTS & TOYS (Yasuzo Masumura; 1958)
This thoughtful and darkly humorous film takes a broad swipe at the world of advertising in corporate Japan. Three rival candy companies are competing for business and they’re willing to do just about anything to get ahead. The cutting-edge director Yasuzo Masumura tackles the negative effects of capitalism on popular culture and explores the way that advertising cleverly manipulates people and sells products. This smart and innovative Japanese film offers outsiders a fascinating look at the late 1950s Japan and the way business was practiced at the time but it’s not as cut and dry as it may sound. Human relationships also play an important role in this unusual film, which includes some great musical numbers and hearty laughs. GIANTS & TOYS also happens to be one of the best looking movies that Yasuzo Masumura ever made.
THE APARTMENT (Billy WIlder; 1960)
The complexities of office romance have rarely seemed as bitter or as sweet as they are in Billy Wilder’s THE APARTMENT. The film tells the Oscar-winning story of a struggling clerk (Jack Lemmon) at a successful New York insurance company who decides to let executives use his apartment for their romantic trysts in an effort to get promoted. Things start to go wrong when he realizes that his boss (Fred MacMurray) is having an affair with a young elevator operator that he likes (Shirley MacLaine) and he begins to question the dubious state of affairs that he’s found himself in. This popular dark comedy is one of Wilder’s best films and a personal favorite.
LOVER COME BACK (Delbert Mann; 1961)
This Oscar-nominated comedy stars Doris Day and Rock Hudson as two dueling executives who do battle in the corporate offices of swank advertising agencies. LOVER COME BACK is one of the best romantic comedies that the actors made together and one of the few films on my list that features a woman in the role of an executive instead of just another working girl. This is a great looking movie and the impressive color photography really highlights the stylish set designs and Doris Day’s eye-catching wardrobe. It’s hard to avoid smiling while watching LOVER COME BACK so if you’re looking for a cheerful film to beat the winter doldrums and saturate your MAD MEN cravings, LOVER COME BACK might just do the trick.
GOOD NEIGHBOR SAM (David Swift; 1964)
This is the second film starring Jack Lemmon on my list but it’s a more lighthearted affair than THE APARTMENT. David Swift’s GOOD NEIGHBOR SAM tells the story of Sam Bissell (Jack Lemmon), a low-level executive working at a San Francisco ad agency who suddenly gets the opportunity to manage one of the companies major accounts due to his wholesome image as a loving family man with a devoted wife (Dorothy Provine). Things get complicated when his wife’s sexy friend (Romy Schneider) moves in next-door and asks if Sam will pose as her husband so she can gain a large inheritance. He agrees to do it with his wife’s encouragement but afterward, chaos erupts. This lighthearted film gently pokes fun at the world of advertising and should appeal to design enthusiasts who might appreciate the movie’s style-conscious look at suburban America in the early ‘60s.
HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (David Swift; 1967)
This colorful musical farce actually features one of the stars of MAD MEN, a very young Robert Morse, and it undoubtedly helped inspire the original concept of the series. HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING was based on the 1961 musical of the same name and directed by David Swift who also directed GOOD NEIGHBOR SAM. Robert Morse stars as J. Pierpont Finch, an ambitious window washer who buys a self-help book called How to Succeed in Business and proceeds to follow its suggestions while haphazardly advancing his career at the World Wide Wicket Company to finally become Vice-President of Advertising. Romance with one of his female coworkers also blossoms while he tries to navigate through the murky waters of corporate America. This entertaining musical is a lot of fun and a must-see if you’re a MAD MEN fan.
I’LL NEVER FORGET WHAT’S’ISNAME (Michael Winner; 1967)
The final film on my list of recommendations is a dark British comedy with an unusual title, I’LL NEVER FORGET WHAT’S’ISNAME. Oliver Reed stars as a disillusioned advertising executive that leaves his corporate job as well as his wife and mistresses to go to work at a small literary magazine. He’s pursued by a ruthless advertising chief played wonderfully by the great Orson Welles who attempts to coax Reed back into the business. It’s hard not to think of MAD MEN’S own Donald Draper when you’re watching the film. Oliver Reed’s character definitely reflects a lot of Don Draper’s own personal struggles, character flaws and desires. I’LL NEVER FORGET WHAT’S’ISNAME incorporates themes that MAD MEN started to explore in the fourth season of the series. In many ways this is a very mature film that features the lovely actress and songstress Marianne Faithfull uttering the F-word for one of the first times in a commercial movie. The film seems especially modern when compared to something like HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, which was released the same year. I’LL NEVER FORGET WHAT’S’ISNAME demands a lot from viewers but I think this challenging movie is one of Michael Winner’s best and it also contains one of Oliver Reed’s most interesting performances.
These are just a few movie recommendations that I think some MAD MEN fans might enjoy watching while they wait for season five of the show to start. I know there are plenty of MAD MEN fans who are always on the lookout for similar films made in the late 1950s or 1960s that take place in the boardrooms and backrooms of fictional ad agencies and corporate offices.
by Kimberly Lindbergs
Originally written for TCM/Movie Morlocks