In Mad Men at the Movies we explore the cinematic references of television's finest drama. So good to have the SCDP gang back on our small screen dreaming about their big screens. Naturally mild spoilers follow...
6.1 "The Doorway"
Vague Synopsis: The sixth season of Mad Men begins just before New Year's 1968 (?). A client has paid for the Drapers to vacation in Hawaii assuming that the trip will inspire Don to come up with a brilliant ad campaign to sell their hotel. They don't quite get what they were expecting since Don Draper is perpetually gloomy and unknowable even to himself -- 'The Inferno? just a little light reading on the beach!' Later both Peggy & Don run into trouble with their latest individual ad concepts due to uncomfortable associations - Peggy's ad rubs up against the world's worsening Vietnam problems, Don's ad reminds his clients of suicide. Meanwhile, perpetual child Betty Draper Francis obsesses over her daughter's friend (this isn't the first time!) and continues to need more therapy even more frequently than lost playboy Roger Sterling is getting it.
As ever not all of the movie references on Mad Men are spelled out with movie titles. more...
I loved the subtlety of mixing the highly appropriate Hawaiian set From Here to Eternity into the episode in multiple free-association ways from drunken G.I.s in Hawaii to the title's spiritual afterlife implications both of which sprung from a tossed-off crude remark.
So Don Ho... Did you have a blue drink in the white sand? Ernest Borgnine chase you down the alley with a switchblade? Love that movie!"
-Roger to Don
Roger is of course referring to From Here to Eternity's violent villain, Sgt. "Fatso" Judson who terrorizes Montgomery Clift in the Best Picture of 1953. Borgnine wasn't nominated for his role but virtually everyone else in From Here to Eternity was; it's one of only 9 pictures in Oscar's 85 year history to win 5 nominations in the acting categories alone. [Aside: Trivia Purists will know that this was most common in the 1950s and it just doesn't happen any more. Network (1976) is the last film to win 5 acting nominations. The last time it almost miraculously happened was, I'd wager Chicago since Richard Gere was presumably a near-miss)
Roger also cheerfully name-checks A Star is Born (1954) which we're covering very soon on "Hit Me With Your Best Shot") in the episode's key scene: Don's "Jumping Off Point" ad campaign for his Hawaiian hotel clients. He's telling the clients about this feeling that stayed with him...
Don Draper: I think we're not selling a geographical location but we're selling an experience. It's not just a different place, you are different. And you'd think that there would be an unsettling feeling about something so drastically different but there's something else. You don't miss anything. You're not homesick. It puts you in this state. The air and the water are all the same temperature as your body. It's sensory: the music, the the fragrance, the breeze, and the blue. Hawaiian legend has it that the soul can go in and out of the body but it usually leaves from a leeward point into the waves.
"Hawaii: the jumping off point"
The clients are confused. So what happened to him? Don explains again, clearly proud and obstinate about his idea.
Client #1: I suppose it reminds me a little of the cinema. But mostly I see James Mason at the end of that movie walking into the sea.
Client #2: What is that movie?
Don: I'm not sure i know what you're talking about.
Client #1: He's killing himself. I don't think they show it but he's going to swim out until he can't swim back.
Don: That may be a personal association for you but that's not what this means.
We all looked at this. None of us thought of that!
Roger Sterling [remembering]: "A Star is Born!"
Client #2: I'm sorry but this is very poetic.
Don says thank you to this last remark but the client clearly didn't mean it as a compliment. Don is too frustrated to think straight and to arrogant for his memory to work straight. Everyone knows that Don is an incurable moviegoer. There's no way he's forgotten A Star is Born.
Sadness looms like a cloud over the very successful in A Star is Born -- and not just in retrospect because Judy didn't win her deserved Oscar -- as it does over these Mad Men but I love that when Roger remembers the title he says it so 'a-ha!' cheerfully. Roger and Judy have this in common, the dazzling charismatic surfaces with much darker interiors. For the entire episode Roger Sterling is laughing off death whether by suicide or natural causes yet he's clearly and emphatically thrown. "This is MY funeral" he shouts annoyed when his mother's funeral doesn't go the way he'd planned. It's one of the most perfect line readings imaginable (How does John Slattery not have an Emmy yet?). He's not to happy in the Here but he definitely prefers it to the Eternity.
All this and we didn't even have time to unpack Crazy Betty from her "rape" joke (uhhh) to her Manhattan journey to her sudden dye job. Her son's reaction "I hate it. You're ugly" (which is basically like every person on the internet every day with Betty) but her husband is kinder. "Elizabeth Taylor what have you done to my wife?"
Mad Men Mania
The Cut explores the fashions in the first episode of the season
Cinema Blend five biggest questions after the premiere
Basket of Kisses "Don doesn't even know he's suicidal"
Vulture Don Draper wants to be every woman he seduces