“This film became an important influence on the pilot because it was shot in New York City, right around the time the first episode takes place. I had studied the film in depth at USC Film School and absorbed much of its ‘ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances’ narrative drive.”
In some ways Mad Men’s most literal cinematic inspiration (it’s about an adman named Roger Thornhill who assumes another man’s identity), this Alfred Hitchcock classic may have been most valuable as a reference point during the show’s pilot, but its shadow has increasingly loomed larger as Don Draper’s life has spiraled further out of control. Sure, Don has seemed less like an ordinary man with every passing season (erratically wavering between genius and disaster, his success inflating the promise of the American Dream in order to get a better look at its hollow core). But Don’s dwindling sense of personal agency—as illustrated in recent seasons by his precarious status at his actual agency—finds him unwittingly becoming more like Thornhill with every turn of the screw.
North by Northwest famously ends with a brilliant moment of visual innuendo, as Hitchcock cuts to a train disappearing into a tunnel just after Thornhill welcomes Kendall into his cabin. Somehow, we doubt that Don Draper will get off that easy.
People are always saying “television is the new movies,” but to watch Mad Men—arguably the most cinematic TV show ever made—it seems like it would be more accurate to say that television is the old movies. After seven glorious seasons of sharp suits, mid-day Scotches and existential crises, Matthew Weiner’s long running series about the advertising industry of the 1960s is finally coming to a close this spring. In honor of the final season, Museum of the Moving Image is hosting a series about the classic films that inspired the show, with Weiner himself curating the slate to reveal how the movies helped him reinvent television.
We run through seven of Weiner’s choices, starting with what he had to say about the movies, and then adding our own thoughts about how these films may have rubbed off on the show.
“Required Viewing: Mad Men’s Movie Influences” runs though April 26th.