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:

An article in the Montreal Gazette provides this juicy Matthew Weiner quote:

The culture views the ’60s as this kind of golden glory. The election of John F. Kennedy is memorialized as a time of great innocence. And yet, reading the New Yorker from April 1960 and reading the movie reviews in there of Psycho and The Apartment, I thought to myself, ‘This is not a particularly innocent society.’ We forget that the wave of youth and enthusiasm that swept the country then was decided by about 100 votes.

Psycho and The Apartment? Where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah. Here’s a Mad Men conversation about The Apartment:

Aw, Red, that’s not how it is. Look, it was crude. That’s the way pictures are now. Did you see that ridiculous Psycho? Hollywood isn’t happy unless things are extreme.

Roger Sterling to Joan Holloway, Long Weekend

What were the big movies of 1960? (more…)

Does anyone know? In what episode does Roger Sterling criticize Psycho, and what is the quote? I think it may be Long Weekend, since they’re discussing going to the movies (that’s when Joan talks about The Apartment), but I’d really like to nail it down.

What a lovely and interesting thread I found woven through Long Weekend.

Roger to Mirabelle: Look at your skin, it’s translucent.

Don to Rachel: He’s gray and weak. His skin looks like paper.

Moments later, Don: Sit with me. Rachel: Why? Don: Because I feel like you’re looking right through me over there.

So now I wonder if that was the theme of this episode; seeing through to the truth. Underbellies exposed. You know what’s on the other side of all that crap, Roger? A heart attack. You know why your roommate is your roommate, Joan? Dooyah?

There is one moment in this episode where we catch a shine of reality that has been previously unexplored. In the scene where Roger tries to get Joan to spend time with him, and they talk about the movie the Apartment, Joan pipes in with, The way those men treated that poor girl; handing her around like a tray of canapés. She tried to commit suicide. That is the first, perhaps only in the whole first season, indication that Joan is less than content with her lifestyle. Maybe a little lonely, maybe a little angry, maybe a little not proud.

Looking through my file called “Weiner Notes” (sounds funny, right?) from the Jacob Burns Film Center event, I find the following quote:

“I don’t want to do the same season two years in a row”

He may have said “ever” — “I don’t ever want.”

The point is, next year’s Mad Men will not be like this year’s Mad Men. Matt Weiner was specifically referring to the mystery of Don Draper, built from episode one (where Harry says “nobody knows that guy;” a clip used repeatedly in “Previously…” segments) and culminating in the blackmail of episode 12. “No mystery next season” he said. Because repeating himself is no fun.

So I have a little anxiety about that. I don’t want another mystery, but how different is different? It’s a different year. It’s a season that could be about changes that have already taken place; Rachel is already back from her cruise, and has already confronted or refused to confront Don, Harry and Jennifer are either back together or split apart, Trudy has perhaps had a baby, Francine and Betty have both addressed or refused to address their husbands’ infidelities. What might such a season be like? I’m kind of excited and really, kind of scared to find out.

Roberta already mentioned how Weiner realized that most of The Apartment, is spent establishing things that the characters already know, and that’s informative about the writing process: Jack Lemmon loans his apartment out to higher-ups in order to curry favor. Shirley Maclaine is having an affair with a married man, and Lemmon has a crush on her. All of this is known to those characters, but not to the audience. So my guess is that Season 2 will heavily involve telling us things that that the characters already know, things that happened while we, the audience, were not watching them.

I can totally see how television shows (and comic books, and movie franchises) get in a rut. I feel the resistance to change within me. I want my beloved show, not some new deal that may not be as good. Yet I know that this kind of change is vital to the creative health of a show. On Buffy and his other shows, Whedon killed beloved characters, changed them unalterably, and when he didn’t do that, when he conformed to the needs of keeping the show “continuing,” is often when he produced his weakest writing. Whereas when he said, to hell with fan expectations, is often when he was strongest. I think Weiner is going to say to hell with expectations.


As we wrap-up Jon Hamm Birthday Week here at BoK, I wanted to focus on the events of Don Draper’s life over the course of Season One.

Weiner, at the oft-quoted Jacob Burns Film Center event, talked about the influence of the film the Apartment. We’ve heard this a lot, and the film itself is alluded to in Babylon. But what Weiner discussed was how in the Apartment, most of the movie is set-up. Exposition. The bulk of the film is the audience and the characters discovering the circumstances that are already in occurrence.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is mostly exposition. It remains a brilliant pilot no matter how many viewings, but the big reveal at the end turns into a not-so-much once you know that Don is married. And the season is filled with such reveals. We are figuring out who these people are by finding out who they’ve been. Dick Whitman. Joan and Roger. Joan and Paul, for that matter.

This is the nature of storytelling, these two components; exposition and occurrences.

And so I wanted to close in on what has happened to Don, distinct from what we learn about him.

Because um… he’s had a hell of a year. And that is what I thought as I watched him sit on those stairs, our heads filling with the future.

So let’s review.

Nine months for Don

  • He gets a new secretary. He recognizes her talents and promotes her to copywriter.
  • His wife grows increasingly unhappy and strange. After Betty has a car accident with his children, he reluctantly sends her to a psychiatrist… with whom Don covertly discusses her progress.
  • He fires Pete Campbell, only to have him unfired by his superiors. He gets a big fat bonus. He gets seriously wooed by a bigger agency, and as a result gets an even bigger fatter raise. His direct supervisor and sometime partner-in-crime has a non-fatal heart attack in his presence. He heads up several successful campaigns, brings in new clients, and loses one account. He is made partner.
  • He leaves his mistress of (seemingly) many years.
  • He meets and falls for Rachel Menken. He reveals things to her that have never been revealed. She leaves him.
  • His secret past is discovered, and he is blackmailed. He does not give in, and the truth is brought to his boss. Who doesn’t care.
  • He falls down a flight of stairs. Ow.
  • He smokes pot.
  • His younger brother comes to him out of his lost past, and Don pushes him far away. After a few months, Don has a change of heart and tries to contact Adam, only to discover that he has committed suicide.

And I am just saying… holy crap, that’s a lot. For a man who knows how to cope and survive but who doesn’t have a clue how to process, this is a lot.

Here’s a review in New York Newsday of the new Collector’s Edition release of Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning The Apartment. Like most reviewers, Jan Stuart loves the film (it is, apropos of nothing, our mother’s favorite movie). And he mentions Mad Men:

Surely this is where “Mad Men,” AMC’s advertising-world drama, derived its stark, fluorescent-ceiling ambience and ribald, ’60s spirit. For all its Wilderesque cynicism, “The Apartment” is rescued from that TV show’s soullessness by the waifish but unmistakably wise presence of MacLaine as elevator operator Fran Kubelik.

We here will find Stuart’s characterization of “soullessness” completely wrong-headed, but Matt Weiner confirms he’s absolutely right about the film’s influence.

The Apartment was on TCM at 3:45 Wednesday morning. I DVRed it and we’ll be reviewing it sooner or later.