Sunday, August 30, 2009

MM@M: Joan Crawford, Caterpillar Woman

Mad Men at the Movies: Discussing movies referenced in the '60s set series. Previously: Gidget, The Wizard of Oz, Lady Chatterley's Lover and Natalie Wood.

1.6 "Babylon"
Don Draper relaxes in bed with his wife's book "The Best of Everything". She joins him.

Don Draper: [sarcastically] This is fascinating.
Betty Draper: It's better than the Hollywood version.
Don: Certainly dirtier.
Betty: Joan Crawford is not what she was. And honestly, I found her eyebrows completely unnerving, like a couple of caterpillar's just pasted there. Her standing next to Suzy Parker... as if they were the same species.
Don: Well, some men like eyebrows. And all men like Joan Crawford. Salvatore couldn't stop talking about her.
<--- Crawford and her offending eyebrows as a bitchy editor in The Best of Everything (1959).

Like the Gidget reference, this last line is another wink to modern audience that Salvatore, Don's co-worker, is gay. These days who loves Joan Crawford more than the gays? Of course back in the day straight men loved the larger than life actresses, too. Movie culture wasn't always so focused on the preferences of teenage boys.
Betty: To think, one of the great beauties and there she is... so old. I'd just like to disappear at that point. It makes perfect sense.
Don: [gently joking] I promise Betts, first sign of crow's feet and I'll put you on an ice flow. Or would you prefer to be my girl in the iron mask?
Betty: My mother was at least two years older than whatever Joan Crawford says she is and she was still very fetching.
Out of context this scene might read like another attack on one of Hollywood's most durable punching bags. In context it's a rather incisive peak at Betty's ample phobias and beauty fascism.

As per usual the research team on Mad Men deserve enormous kudos. This is a brilliant, but not obvious, choice of films. It allows us to see Betty's class entitlement issues all entangled with her other neurosis. Note that Betty approves of Suzy Parker, the supermodel-turned-actress who was the epitome of high end glamour when Betty herself would have been at an impressionable age. Crawford had peaked before Betty was a teenager. Though certainly glamourous, the movie star never read as "high class", often playing self-made women or social-climbing working girls. No wonder Crawford unnerves Betty. She pushes all of her buttons.

The Best of Everything opened in the fall of 1959, several months before this episode takes place. It was another in director Jean Negulesco's parade of colorful films about trios of working girls. His previous efforts included the wonderful How to Marry a Millionaire and the Best Picture nominee Three Coins in the Fountain (previous post).

further reading
a fun article on the fashions in The Best of Everything
Basket of Kisses the great Mad Men fansite

other references in this episode

Cinema: Paul Newman in the (upcoming) movie version of Exodus and a brief visual reminder of The Red Balloon. Books: The Best of Everything, The Bible, Exodus Celebrities: Dick Van Dyke, Mary Martin and Brigitte Bardot. Politics: Fidel Castro and Nikita Krushchev.


Jim T said...

Sorry for being offtopic Nathaniel but I was wondering how would you rank Streep's, Swinton's and Mulligan's performances?


U think I'd give away my film bitch awards this easily ? U crazy!

OT: Did all men love Joan Crawford or is this just another reminder oDON's anti-Betty type, slightly hard dark haired beauties?

Any theories or Crawford historians wanna pipe in?

Jim T said...

I had to try. :p

J said...

Betty remains obsessed with looks even in Season 3. I think one of the most memorable moment is when she confronts Don about his affair and says "How could you...She's so OLD!" She is always impeccably turned out though, her riding gear is hot.