‘Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner On the Influence of ‘The Apartment'

If you're mad about “Mad Men,” says the show’s creator Matthew Weiner, you’re going to be just as crazy about an enduring gem of a film of the same era, 1960’s “The Apartment.”

Director Billy Wilder’s masterful serio-comic exploration of the darker side of office politics and clandestine corporate romances starred Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray. With "The Apartment" having just been released on Blu-Ray, PopcornBiz went to Weiner for his thoughts on how the film – which won five Oscars, including Best Picture – related to his own phenomenal 60s-centric TV creation. And indeed, Weiner cites the film as significantly influential on his vision for the goings-on at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

“There's a very big relationship to it, and anybody who can make a comparison to it, it's one of the most flattering things that you could ever say. There's a movie that nobody wanted to make, that people thought was kind of crass and crude. I did not see it until I was in film school. I had seen some Billy Wilder movies as being a part of the culture, but I didn't know whose they were or whatever. But what I love about that movie is that there is this image that sort of got metabolized of the ‘50s in particular and the high ‘60s and that period basically between Woodstock and, let’s say, Eisenhower.”

“The Kennedy assassination is recognized, but I don't think that people realize that human experience is the same. There is infidelity going on. There is drinking going on. Mr. Sheldrake dressing his Christmas tree while his mistress is calling him on the verge of suicide. That is a human experience that's very tawdry and seems kind of sordid and doesn't seem appropriate for a Hollywood movie. And yet there you see it as being at the nexus of the culture, and popular culture. So when people look back on it, like, 'Oh, it was so hunky-dory and everybody had…' Now I think [our] show has actually erased a lot of that.”

“It's a pretty great movie, and one of the great things about the movie, too, is that there's so much entertainment in it. There's an hour and 20 minutes in that movie when all that's happening is catching the audience up with what's already happened. You literally come into a situation and you are learning for an hour and 20 minutes that this guy has an apartment, that his boss is using him, that everyone is having sex in this apartment, that he does it all the time. There's no forward movement in the story, except for the audience finding out what this guy's life is like. Just narratively it's fascinating, and then there’s all the planting and payoff.”

“Billy Wilder wrote it with I. L. Diamond – this is like one of the great writing teams of all time, and just the cinema in it, the stuff that's done…I'd like to claim a relationship to 'Mad Men' for that, too. Spoiler alert: Things like the champagne cork going off and you think it's a suicide. The tennis racket. The compact with the crack in it. The restaurant with the drinks in it. How things are shaping up ‘cookie-wise.’ That's a contemporary movie. People were seeing people that they knew. It was done in a very sort of classic kind of way. It's masterful storytelling.”

“That's my relationship to it: that it's one of my favorite movies. I saw it and realized that it was the apex of a period that I had already been fascinated with. I loved the characters, and just writing-wise I always try and emulate that kind of storytelling, where the payoffs are visual and there's a lot of misunderstanding, but they're believable. And the bad guys have a reason for what they do. And casting. Do not forget who Fred MacMurray was when they put in that part. The grimiest guy that he had ever been was in 'Double Indemnity.' He was the schmuck in that. In this thing he was really a dark character.”

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