8 Films That Remind Us Of ‘Mad Men’: From ‘The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit’ to ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’

8 Films That Remind Us Of 'Mad Men': From 'The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit' to 'Inside Llewyn Davis'

With the first half of the final season of AMC’s “Mad Men” behind us, we’re not sure how we’ll be able to manage without our favorite “friends” from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. So to tide us over ’til 2015, when “Mad Men” returns for the conclusion of its final season, we created this list of films that remind us the critically acclaimed television period drama (complete with three martini lunches and afternoon assignations). Half of the films listed below were made during the “Mad Men” era (“The Best of Everything,” “The Apartment,” “Valley of the Dolls” and “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit”) with the other half comprised of contemporary films looking back on the period — which feels even more in keeping with the series’ retro feel. We’ve listed them below in chronological order (from most recent to oldest):

1. “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013)

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

On the surface, all that “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Mad Men” have in common is that they both take place in New York in the 1960s. Still, even though the show isn’t about a folk singer living in Greenwich village, the Coens’ drama still references and depicts the musical movement that first blossomed downtown. Plus, in the first season of “Mad Men,” we are introduced to Don’s lover, the bohemian Midge. One night she takes him to an artsy-type club. It’s a very Dylan-esque sequence, evocative of the music scene that “Inside Llewyn Davis” faithfully portrays. We could totally picture Midge showing up at the coffee house where Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) croons.

2. “A Single Man (2009)

Director: Tom Ford

While “Mad Men” is frequently lauded for its performances, themes and mood, the show’s retro aesthetics are arguably the impressive element of the show. In “A Single Man,” directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, we explore a day in the life of a severely depressed man (Colin Firth), who reflects on his friendships, romances and the course of his life. Part of what makes “A Single Man” so spectacular is its color palette. Everyone, in a 60s fashion, is impeccably dressed. Yes, “A Single Man” takes place in L.A. and there’s no Don Draper or Madison Avenue, but the interiors, suits, dresses and overall coloring of the film are a definite reminder of the AMC drama.

3. “Revolutionary Road (2008)

Director: Sam Mendes

Based on the acclaimed 1961 novel by Richard Yates, the film is set in 1955 and focuses on a glamorous young couple with romantic aspirations who settle with their young children in suburbia — sound familiar? Frank and April Wheeler are uncannily similar to Don and Betty Draper, especially since, like Don, Frank beds a neighbor, drinks non-stop, smokes and vents at his wife. Even “Mad Men” show creator Matthew Weiner acknowledged the similarities, telling The New York Times he read the book three years after he wrote the pilot and might not have attempted the show if he had previously read the book. “Yates was there. This is what he was writing about.” Meanwhile, without giving anything away, we’ll just say that we hope “Mad Men” doesn’t end as bleakly as “Revolutionary Road.” 

4. “Far From Heaven (2002)

Director: Todd Haynes

There aren’t many of us, but Betty Draper/Francis fans will certainly see the similarities between January Jones’ famed character and Julianne Moore’s Cathy Whitaker in Todd Haynes’ “Far From Heaven.” Haynes’ movie takes place in 1957, but both pieces explore the changing roles of women that start to arise around this period. When Cathy’s relationship with her husband deteriorates, she looks for love somewhere else (just as Betty ultimately does). Betty Draper, in her own way, refuses to be a complacent housewife, not taking Don’s crap. Both women make huge leaps and bounds and the film reminds us of one of the TV show’s more empowering storylines. 

5. “Valley of the Dolls” (1967)

Director: Mark Robson 

Based on the best-selling 1966 book of the same name by Jacqueline Susann, “Valley of the Dolls” is much more of a soap opera than “Mad Men.” But like the TV series, the film (albeit, in an over-the-top campy way) depicts the challenges of career women in the 1960s and focuses on the trajectories of three women in particular. Though the film’s stars are more melodramatic and tragic, they still conjure up the leading ladies of “Mad Men,” Peggy, Joan and Betty. It’s also not a stretch to picture Megan turning into one of the pill-popping actresses of “Dolls.”

6. “The Apartment” (1960)

Director: Billy Wilder 

Office drudge Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon) will do anything to climb the corporate ladder – even if it means letting executives use his apartment for their adulterous trysts. It’s not a stretch to picture Pete Campbell stooping this low. And, as with “Mad Men,” in some cases, the secretaries also double as  mistresses.

7. “The Best of Everything” (1959)

Director: Jean Negulesco

“The story of the girls who claw and scratch their way to the top…only to realize too late – there’s no wedding ring on their finger!” was the tag line for the movie (based on the Rona Jaffe novel) about career girls on Madison Avenue. Like Peggy, Joan and the other female employees at SCDP, the working women in “The Best of Everything” have to endure blatant sexism, condescending comments and lecherous office mates. It’s no surprise that when Don was trying to figure out what women want, he picked up a copy of Jaffe’s novel, reading the book in bed next to Betty, in season 1.

8. “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit” (1956)

Director: Nunnally Johnson

Though “Mad Men” kicks off in 1960 and this film (based on the novel by Sloan Wilson) was set during the 1950s, it’s hard to ignore parallels between Tom Rath (played by Gregory Peck) and Don Draper. Both men are ex-soldiers who are plagued by memories of war and struggle to fit into “normal” society with mixed results. Rath and Draper both commute from their suburban family lives into snazzy Manhattan jobs, leaving behind their beautiful wives (Jennifer Jones plays Mrs. Rath) and TV-obsessed children. And the show knows this too well: Remember when comedian Jimmy Barrett dubbed Don “the man in the gray flannel suit?” 

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Comments

Willem

Though a continent away, Antonioni’s isolation trilogy, in tone and spirit of modern urban sensibilites and sexual politics somehow lingers in the backdrop.

Andy Halmay

P.S. ISIS may have visited me today. I’ve lost my head. It was Shep Mead who wrote How to Succeed Without Trying. The best seller, The Hucksters, was written by Frederick Wakeman, came out in ’47 and half interested me in the ad industry. The film was a sanitized version of the book which had more punch.

Andy Halmay

Right on, Monrowe, "How to Succeed" would have been more relevant than most of the other titles. but even more, omitted by both lists was The Hucksters from the 1952 book by Shepherd Mead, made into a film a film with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner a few years later. My first job on Madison Avenue was at the hot TV agency, Bryan Houston, Inc., and when we lost some accounts, feeling vulnerable, I started mailing out resumes. One of these went to Mead who had started at Benton & Bowles as an office boy in 1936 and was a VP by the time I approached him in late ’55 or early ’56. Chances are I still have in my vast files a warm rejection note from him which began with, "You come to me too late." He then confided that he was leaving Madison Avenue. His book made him independent. He moved on to Switzerland and the U.K. and wrote another 19 books. I watched only one episode of Mad Men and was turned off. I’m not sure if I felt they didn’t capture the real Mad Avenue or if they focused on people who reminded me of people I didn’t like. Of course, ten people in the same industry will have ten different points of view and each can be accurate. I ended up being hired by Benton & Bowles shortly after Mead left and recently I covered three of my more hilarious years in that industry in the book The Zsa Zsa Affair focusing on a commercial I produced with that unforgettable Hungarian.

Steerpike

Tin Men?

Chris

You forgot The Master.

ian

executive suite guys. the original.

Paula Bernstein

If we had included 9 films, that would have made the list, Monrowe!

Monrowe

Great list–might I also recommend How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967)? I once watched the film immediately before watching an episode of Mad Men, never having realized that Robert Morse was in both projects. Granted, the film and the show are vastly different tonally. Yet How to Succeed gave me a whole new appreciation for Mad Men and made the show's mid-season finale all the more fantastic.

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