The Films Don Draper Watched In ‘Mad Men’

Get ready to feel old. It has been a full decade since the first episode of AMC’s network-defining series Mad Men aired.

That’s right. When the first episode aired, George W. Bush was president and the current Adam Sandler theatrical release was I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

The show premiered on July 19, 2007, and quickly went on to become nothing less than a cultural phenomenon. Set between 1960 and 1970, it depicted the life of Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a New York City advertising executive whose seemingly perfect life was not all it appeared to be.

It was praised for its acting and writing, to say nothing of its attention to detail in depicting the time period and all of its cultural upheaval. All the chain-smoking and people drinking at their desks at 11 in the morning only added to the flavor.

Mad Men went all out in its commitment to historical authenticity, right down to the clothes, cars, social mores, and pop culture of the day. Part of this commitment was evident in the show’s references to contemporary movies, which a character like Don Draper was frequently depicted watching.

The show’s creators were smart enough to know that if you want to represent a modern American era convincingly, including its movies is an essential task. With that in mind, we at Fandor are running down a list of movies that Don Draper watched in episodes of Mad Men.

La Notte

In the second season episode “The New Girl,” Draper watched the 1961 Michelangelo Antonioni film, La Notte. Released between 1960’s L’Avventura and 1962’s L’Eclisse, the film depicts a married couple who appear functional on the surface but are in reality completely disconnected from one another emotionally, well beyond the point of no return.

“It is not the situation so much as it is the intimations of personal feelings, doubts, and moods that are the substance of the film,” New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote in his 1962 review. This should sound familiar to anyone who has watched Mad Men and marveled at its ability to depict hidden emotions with remarkable subtlety.

If Antonioni fans—or anybody curious about his work and looking for a starting point—wants to explore one of his films on Fandor, his 1950 debut Story of a Love Affair is available.

Bye Bye Birdie

An excerpt from the 1963 musical comedy Bye Bye Birdie appears in the third season episode “Love Among the Ruins.” Don and his fellow Sterling Cooper advertising associates are looking for a new face to star in commercials for their latest client, Pepsi-Cola, and they want someone in the impossibly perky and ebullient mold of the film’s star, Ann-Margaret.

Draper isn’t the only character on the show taken in by the ingénue’s energy and spirit. Copywriter Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) is seen elsewhere in the episode singing the title song into the mirror, perhaps in an attempt to vicariously tap into whatever quality it is that Ann-Margaret possesses making her irresistible to the opposite sex.

Gamera: The Giant Monster

In the fourth season episode “The Good News,” Don and his business partner Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) have an experience that is common to a great many of us. They look through a newspaper to find a movie to watch, choose the classic 1964 French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, then change their minds and decide to go see a ridiculous B-movie instead.

The ridiculous B-movie in question is 1965’s Gamera: The Giant Monster which is basically 90 minutes of a dude in a rubber suit stomping all over a miniature model of Tokyo. Draper and Pryce watch the movie while drunk, which is probably an appropriate way to appreciate its unique artistry.

If you want your kaiju film fix from Fandor, we recommend 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, which has Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and many other threats to Japan standing in for the absent Gamera. We promise that if you enjoy it the same way Don and Lane did, you won’t know the difference.

Planet of the Apes

In the sixth season episode “The Flood,” Don takes his young son Bobby to the movies. They see the 1968 science fiction classic Planet of the Apes, and when it ends, the two are so incredulous at the movie’s twist ending that they simply remain in their theater seats and wait for the next showing to start.

The original Planet of the Apes, which is currently in its third iteration after two reboots, stars the late Charlton Heston. It was a huge commercial success upon its release, but perhaps more importantly, it made a strong statement about the day’s social upheaval, counterculture, and youth movement.

Fans of the classic simian-human conflict film are encouraged to watch two of our selections, 1941’s Peer Gynt and 1950’s Julius Caesar, both of which feature an impossibly young Charlton Heston before he became a movie star, celebrity, and five-term president of the National Rifle Association.

Model Shop

In the seventh season episode “Field Trip,” Don watches the 1969’s Model Shop by French director Jacques Demy. (He also directed the previously skipped The Umbrellas in Cherbourg.) It was Demy’s first and only American feature.

The storyline follows a desperate man on the run from his responsibilities and living with an actress in a relationship that has gone south. The man ends up drunk and in the arms of a French model named Lola (Anouk Aimée), and together they talk about their failures and general alienation from life.

If that doesn’t sound like an episode of Mad Men, nothing does.

Aimée’s role is a reprise of the title character from Demy’s 1961 film Lola. Aimée can be seen on Fandor in the 2012 French documentary, Agnes Varda: From Here to There.

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