Watching Season 3 of Mad Men, now on DVD, I've once again fallen in love (and obsession) with the show. The complex characters, the sociological undercurrents, the costumes, the ads, everything. If, like me, you are in love with Mad Men, here are a few movies you should check out. A couple are from the 50s/60s era, and a couple are modern imaginings of the era, like Mad Men itself. There's a certain sense of tension and subtext that I love in much work from and about this era in American history.
The Apartment (1960)
Jack Lemmon plays CC Baxter, a lowly New York City office worker. He gains points with his supervisors by offering up his apartment for their extracurricular affairs. His conscience hits him, though, when he falls in love with Fran (Shirley MacLaine), a woman damaged by an affair with her boss. This movie, while cynical in its own right, is more open-hearted towards its characters then Mad Men. Its portrait of status-climbing men and harrassed secretaries, however, will be quite familiar. This movie is easily in my top 10 of all time, my favorite movie by one of my favorite directors (Billy Wilder).
All that Heaven Allows (1955)
Douglas Sirk is a German director who made melodramatic , highly stylized technicolor Hollywood movies filled with subtext commenting on the social mores of the time. While I might slightly prefer "Imitation of Life," which deals with 1950s-racism, "All that Heaven Allows" is a better match for Mad Men. It's about a widowed woman (Jane Wyman) who dares to step outside the stuffy parameters of her culture in dating a working-class younger man (Rock Hudson). Imagine an older Betty Draper gone rogue.
Far From Heaven (2002)
Director Todd Haynes took Douglas Sirk and made a brilliant homage to his work. He brings a similar subtext to the work that you see in Mad Men. He uses the style of Sirk and pulls i
n a modern subtext of race and sexuality. Another of my favorite movies, with great performances from Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, and Patricia Clarkson.
Revolutionary Road (2008)
This movie version is not as brilliant as Richard Yates' 1961 novel, but how could it be? It's honestly one of the best books I've read and I've seen it mentioned often as an influence on Mad Men. The movie is still very engrossing, with a remarkable performance by Kate Winslet. Kate and Leonardo Dicaprio play Frank and April Wheeler, a sort of version of Don and Betty Draper who are more outwardly uncomfortable with the trappings of their suburban life. The workplace, the secretaries, and the suburban milieu definitely recall Mad Men.