Smokers, jokers and midnight tokers
October 8, 2010 11:45 AM   Subscribe

I really enjoy Mad Men. Please recommend some great classic 1950s/60s* movies that have similar themes or aesthetic - from noir to the women's pictures. Contemporary films set in the period also welcome!

(I'm trying to get up to speed on old classics. Watched Casablanca for the first time last week - I knew just what would happen, and still sobbed through the ending.)

*Yes, I know the show begins in '61, but to all intents and purposes it's still the fifties - particularly if you believe that the sixties proper didn't start 'til 63.
posted by mippy to Media & Arts (47 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
You're going to love Changeling (2008).
posted by General Tonic at 11:47 AM on October 8, 2010

"The Apartment" covers office life during the same period. A terrific movie.
posted by chrchr at 11:48 AM on October 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

His Girl Friday is a little earlier (1940) but definitely worth a watch.
posted by griphus at 11:49 AM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you don't mind a different perspective, High & Low is a great Japanese film from the era. Great set design, and a pretty riveting plot.
posted by Dr-Baa at 11:49 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Hudsucker Proxy
posted by puritycontrol at 11:49 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

His Girl Friday is all kinds of awesome.
posted by zizzle at 11:50 AM on October 8, 2010

Ditto on "The Apartment"
posted by goalyeehah at 11:50 AM on October 8, 2010

North by Northwest -- an ad man, a subtle commentary about the emptiness of that existence by Hitchcock, cross country picture of the late 1950s in varying locales, and just about the most genuinely entertaining movie ever made.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:50 AM on October 8, 2010 [8 favorites]

Damn you, griphus!!!
posted by zizzle at 11:50 AM on October 8, 2010

(Even though it's set in the late '20s.)
posted by General Tonic at 11:52 AM on October 8, 2010

Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven is lovely.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:54 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

You'd probably enjoy Catch Me If You Can. Here's the opening animation.
posted by sageleaf at 11:57 AM on October 8, 2010

Rear Window (1954) for the fashion, the mid-century Manhattan, and the suspense.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:59 AM on October 8, 2010

Definitely North By Northwest. The new blu-ray release looks great.
posted by TrialByMedia at 12:01 PM on October 8, 2010

This is a little early (1940ish), but the movie that really got me into classics was The Philadelphia Story. It's got the wit and the drinking and the smoking.
posted by hought20 at 12:01 PM on October 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

"Double Indemnity" with Miss Barbara Stanwyck!
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 12:02 PM on October 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

+1 for The Apartment.
posted by caek at 12:04 PM on October 8, 2010

Revolutionary Road was a big deal when it came out in the early 60's [about life in the 50s] and was recently made into a movie. It has a lot of the period mood [the predigested life idea, keeping up with the Joneses, etc] in addition to the trappings.
posted by jessamyn at 12:05 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies are a little repetitive in theme, but still very charming -- the outfits, the cosmopolitan setting, everything. Hell, most of the Doris Day comedies have these things.

Pillow Talk (the model) and Lover Come Back (nearly the same thing, but still cute)
Send Me No Flowers (also DD, RH and Tony Randall)
That Touch of Mink (DD and Cary Grant)
The Glass Bottom Boat (DD and Rod Taylor)
posted by Madamina at 12:07 PM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Double Indemnity" ANYTHING, ANYTHING AT ALL with Miss Barbara Stanwyck!
posted by griphus at 12:17 PM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Desk Set
posted by interplanetjanet at 12:19 PM on October 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

nthing Far From Heaven

On a less serious note, if you enjoy musicals you might want to check out Down With Love
posted by anastasiav at 12:28 PM on October 8, 2010

Mildred Pierce.
posted by phunniemee at 12:29 PM on October 8, 2010

another for The Apartment
posted by exogenous at 12:29 PM on October 8, 2010

I was monna suggest Desk Set also.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:31 PM on October 8, 2010

Why bother with Far From Heaven when you can get the real thing: Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, and Written on the Wind.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:43 PM on October 8, 2010

And you can't go wrong with Cary Grant.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:49 PM on October 8, 2010

The Apartment is a key film to understanding Mad Men, a huge influence on the tone and look of the show. I'd equally say that it's important to consider Leave it to Beaver as the movie's companion and mirror image. Both are contemporary to the period (The Apartment, 1960 and LitB 1957-63).

There are parts of Don in both Sheldrake, the philandering boss of the Apartment, and Ward Cleaver. Though played by different actors, it's tempting to think that Sheldrake is who Cleaver turns into when he walks out the door in the morning. Dan Draper embodies that character. Indeed, Fred MacMurry, Sheldrake, went on to do his own perfect TV Dad in My Three Sons.

There are other similarities too. Baxter's desperation can be found in Pete at SC(DP). Betty is June Cleaver's dark reflection. Joan, particularly with Roger, looks a lot like Fran Kubelik. Don and Betty's family definitly resembles the Cleavers.

The Apartment was a very important film when it came out. My dad remembers being shocked by it. Male sexuality and the way it ground up women hadn't been seen in a mainstream movie before. What had been shown was stuff like His Girl Friday (worth watching), screwball comedies where a woman could hold her own with a snappy comeback and everything worked out by the end anyway.

The flipside of The Apartment is the home life, and Leave it to Beaver is the "His Girl Friday" happy-face version that Betty thought she had to live up to.
posted by bonehead at 12:49 PM on October 8, 2010 [6 favorites]

+3 Desk Set. It's got the mid-century workplace shenanigans you crave.
posted by CheeseLouise at 12:59 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Already seen The Hudsucker Proxy (and loved it). I also liked Mildred Pierce on the radio so there;s one to try. I don't know Leave It To Beaver - was it a very anodyne sitcom?

Oh - am 2/3rds way through Season 2 of Mad Men so watch out for spoilers! Should have mentioned this at the start though I know you're all sensible about that kind of thing.
posted by mippy at 1:05 PM on October 8, 2010

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a great musical satire on the office culture of the early 1960's.
posted by Sculthorpe at 1:17 PM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I should have mentioned that the star of How to Succeed is Robert Morse who plays Bert Cooper in Mad Men.
posted by Sculthorpe at 1:18 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

So much goodness!

The Apartment, as others have mentioned, was a really big deal and still holds up very, very well. How To Succeed in Business actually features Robert Morse, who plays Bertram Cooper on the show - so I think you can draw a pretty clear line.

I would strongly second Douglas Sirk's films All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, and Imitation of Life, if you want to see really great women's pictures. Mildred Pierce with Joan Crawford came out in the late 40s, but is definitely still worth watching along these lines.

The Swimmer
is an interesting but not mind-blowing movie based on a Cheever short story that was (I think!) a clear influence on a recent episode.

Bye, Bye Birdie was also explicitly referenced and is still a lot of fun - it's a teen musical that gently satirizes the cult of celebrity.

I know Far From Heaven's been recommended (it's pretty directly influenced by Sirk), but The Hours also features Julianne Moore as a '50s housewife and is also pretty great.

I would also, for reasons that I don't entirely understand but feel I should go with, recommend How To Marry a Millionaire. My other key Marilyn Monroe movies are Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like It Hot.
posted by SoftRain at 1:32 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Send me No Flowers" is probably one of the more underrated Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies. I thought it departed from the formula a bit more, and Rock and Tony were really funny, er, amusing in their scenes. Seriously, I thought that some of Hudson and Randall's scenes together were a case of Getting Crap Past the Radar, '60s style. Also amused by how they allude to Randall's character having a wife, but she's never seen, even though they are the next door neighbors to Hudson's and Day's characters.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:42 PM on October 8, 2010

A Single Man
posted by The Whelk at 1:55 PM on October 8, 2010

Peyton Place. It's set in the 40s, but was made in the late 50s. It's definitely a good look at issues for women in the period. Plus the costumes are great.
posted by apricot at 2:38 PM on October 8, 2010

North By Northwest again! The opening graphic in Mad Men is an tribute to that movie.
posted by Neiltupper at 2:53 PM on October 8, 2010

How about:

"Sabrina" (w/ Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and, I think, William Holden)
"Funny Face" (w/ Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire)
"Breakfast at Tiffany's" (w/ Audrey Hepburn)
"All About Eve" (w/ Betty Davis, Anne Baxter)
Katharine Hepburn + Spencer Tracy films like "Desk Set" and "Adam's Rib"
"The Best of Everything" (Hope Lange)
"The Birds"
"To Catch a Thief"
"Casino Royale" the 1967 spoof on you-know-who, the soundtrack and costumes are perfect (and my favorite -- I'll admit it -- James Bond thing).
Any Sean Connery James Bond film from the period, maybe one or two of Roger Moore's (I don't remember when he started)
"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (the George Lazenby James Bond outing with Diana Rigg and, as I recall, a classic ski chase)
"What's New Pussycat"
"The Graduate"?

...If I keep this up, I'll be here all night watching film clips....If you run a search on "1960s films" a bunch of lists show up.
posted by SuzB at 3:12 PM on October 8, 2010

posted by Anitanola at 4:03 PM on October 8, 2010

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
posted by Anitanola at 4:38 PM on October 8, 2010

Strangers When We Meet, w/Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak. Ernie Kovacs is in there too. A great fifties melodrama.
posted by OolooKitty at 4:55 PM on October 8, 2010

"Double Indemnity" with Miss Barbara Stanwyck!

Which I just returned to Netflix a couple of days ago! Great movie for dirty deeds playing out in a banal office setting.
posted by gimonca at 5:00 PM on October 8, 2010

One, Two, Three with James Cagney, 1961. Comedy set in the offices of the Coca Cola company in Berlin.
posted by schrodycat at 5:58 PM on October 8, 2010

Seconding "The Best of Everything", which also has Joan Crawford--in the down-slope of her career--appearing in a less-than-starring role. It's sort of an alternate-reality Mad Men, and you'll notice that much of the original office set design of MM was largely copied from this movie. Mad Men made a nod to the Rona Jaffe book by showing Don Draper reading it (the book was the '60s version of "chic lit" so Don was probably looking for insights into the feminine mind).
posted by fuse theorem at 6:42 PM on October 8, 2010

Pleasantville comes to mind. And maybe Corinna, Corinna?
posted by ifjuly at 7:27 AM on October 9, 2010

All of my suggestions have been covered, except for the '61 film version of A Raisin in the Sun. (I haven't seen the '08 TV version).
posted by clorox at 12:19 AM on October 12, 2010

Response by poster: Just posting here as I remembered how much I liked Mermaids.
posted by mippy at 3:24 AM on October 12, 2010

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