I do a weekly movie review on my other blog, and recently, I reviewed The Apartment.

I mention this because I’m self-aggrandizing Matthew Weiner often cites The Apartment as one of his major influences in creating Mad Men. The era (The Apartment is a 1960 film) and the business milieu are obvious, but at the oft-cited Burns Center event, he also talked about the way that The Apartment starts with a lot already going on; that more of the movie shows you things that the characters already know (Baxter has a crush on Fran, Baxter’s apartment is being used by management, etc.), than shows you things that haven’t happened yet. When something new happens, it’s major.

Another very visible movie for us Mad Hatters is How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, starring Robert Morse (our own Bertram Cooper). Weiner says he didn’t have Robert Morse specifically in mind for the role, just someone venerable from the era who could hold that kind of power.

If you’re not familiar with How to Succeed…, it’s a musical about, well, succeeding in business. An ambitious window-washer (Morse) uses a book of the same title as the film to guide him up the corporate ladder. The jobs don’t matter, the work doesn’t matter, and the methods don’t matter. It’s all about success.

I compare the two in my review:

There is a lot going on here about American business. Baxter really cares about insurance; he thinks and communicates in actuarial numbers. The higher you go up the management ladder, the less people care, but the product is significant, the numbers are significant. Look at how that changes: By the time of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967), no one in the company knows what their product even is. And yes, How to Succeed… is significantly more comedic, but it’s also more cynical. In the seven years between the two films, the notion of a corporate “home” became darker and darker.

In both The Apartment and How to Succeed…, the hero steps on others to rise in business. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) has remorse about that, and Finch (Morse) doesn’t. In Mad Men, it’s not about others at all, it’s about yourself. Pete will blackmail Don to his own detriment, what’s important is how Don handles it. They compete less with each other than with their own demons.

If How to Succeed… represents an increasingly dark and cynical view of business as the decade progresses, we might certainly see signs of that as season 2 begins.

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