04 February 2011

Mad Men before Mad Men

All out of Mad Men episodes? Get the flavour of 1960s advertising from a retro double feature of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) and Lover Come Back (1961).

Lover Come Back showcases Rock Hudson, Doris Day and Tony Randall performing their usual screwball comedy shenanigans in this film about competing advertising executives, the drinking, womanizing charmer Jerry Webster (Hudson) and the hard working, ethically-superior Carol Templeton (Day). Randall is Webster’s boss, uneasy in his role under the shadow of his late father. As Webster’s unscrupulous tactics threaten to take down the agency, he cooks up a way to hush up a witness by making her the new “VIP girl.” Unfortunately, VIP doesn’t exist and Webster has to create a product to go with the pitch. When Templeton tries to track Webster (and VIP) down, a mistaken identity leads to madcap adventures.

Lover Come Back is typical of the 60s screwball comedy -- if you’ve seen Pillow Talk (1959) or the more recent Down With Love (2003) then you’ve already seen Lover Come Back -- but by watching it through the eyes of a Mad Men fan, you can interpret it on another level. t’s fun to see the characteristics of Webster and Templeton in Don Draper and Peggy Olson and maybe just a bit of Pete Ramsey in Pete Campbell. It’s also got the same feel for the cutthroat competition between agencies and the lengths to which agents will go to get an account.

The first thing you notice about How to Succeed in Buisness is lead actor Robert Morse who fans will recognize as agency head Burt Cooper from Mad Men. A much younger Robert Morse is J. Pierpont Finch, a window-washer who stumbles on a book that teaches him how to bluff his way up the ladder in an ad-agency. It’s a musical, albeit an uneven one, and Morse also played the role on Broadway. Also reprising his role from the stage is Rudy Vallee as Mr. Biggley.

Unlike Lover Come Back which more or less glamorizes the industry, How to Succeed lampoons it, every step of the way, from the opener about "The Company Way" to the era’s take on sexual harassment with the musical number "A Secretary is Not a Toy" to the constant sarcastic narrative from the booklet. Unfortunately How to Succeed tends to lag in the third act but does eventually redeem itself. Worth seeing just for Morse’s performance.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Mad Men set directors, costume designers, and even the writers took some crib notes from these two films, so while we wait for the next season, why not treat yourself to these two classics.

Lover Come Back (1961) ****
How to Succeed in Business... (1967) ***