Tuesday, October 09, 2007

May I


May I say something good about AMC? Yes, I think it is okay. First of all, AMC is no longer a rival to TCM, the greatest cable channel of all time. They have long ago given up trying to do what TCM does. No one can do it like TCM, which AMC finally figured out. So I feel no disloyalty when I point out that AMC's original series MAD MEN is hard to beat. It's beautiful to look at, with hints of Sirk - not to mention the more candy-coated surfaces of films like LOVER COME BACK (the Rock Hudson/Doris Day vehicle set, like MAD MEN, in the early sixties New York advertising world) and HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (in a welcome nod to that film, its lead actor Robert Morse [pictured] has a recurring role in MAD MEN. He's such a strange, charming and interesting actor and it's a treat to see him working again.) Thematically, MAD MEN treads Billy Wilder territory. The very night I mentioned as much to Theresa, there was an explicit reference to THE APARTMENT on the episode, and we looked at one another knowingly, the way we like to do. There are references as well to EXECUTIVE SUITE and similar melodramas of office politics, some of the same films that the Coen Brothers were playing with in THE HUDSUCKER PROXY. In fact, when a Greenwich Village beatnik talked about going out and getting some carrot juice in MAD MEN, I couldn't help but think of the latter film. MAD MEN is not interested in jittery Jack Lemmon-like moral qualms. That's wrong. It's interested in them, but mainly in the ways they are forcefully repressed. It's as if the Kirk Douglas character from ACE IN THE HOLE was placed at the center of THE APARTMENT. I'm not explaining any of this correctly. I'm just filling in on TV duty while I await a transmission from Dr. "M." But I will say that MAD MEN has literary overtones as well. You'll think of Cheever. And it can be funny. Its keen eye and ear for the absurd tropes of advertising are reminiscent of Preston Sturges's CHRISTMAS IN JULY, starring Dick Powell (that film is another obvious antecedent of HUDSUCKER; I say "antecedent" because I've sworn off "progenitor.") In a way it's an anti-comedy, though, making explicit everything that is creepy about swinging comedies like HOW TO SAVE A MARRIAGE AND RUIN YOUR LIFE, A GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED MAN (also starring Robert Morse) and UNDER THE YUM YUM TREE. And it shares with early sixties comedies a fascination with psychiatry. The trouble here is that I'm not expressing the thing about the show that makes it UNLIKE anything else. I think you have to watch it to find out.