Sweet Smell of Success — The titles of episodes two and three from the first season — “Cat’s In The Bag … ” and “. . . And The Bag’s In The River” — are actually a direct quote from The Sweet Smell of Success, which has been described by Vince Gilligan has his all-time favorite movie. Its influence on Breaking Bad, however, is more ethereal: Sweet Smell of Success was perhaps best known for its outstanding, quotable dialogue, and Gilligan clearly seems to be going for that in his writing. Like Breaking Bad, Sweet Smell of Success is dark and cruel, but laced with wit. But the movie is also about men, like Walter White, who are not above steamrolling both friends and enemies alike to get ahead, and there’s a certain parallel between Bryan Cranston — known to most as the Dad in Malcolm in the Middle before Breaking Bad — and Tony Curtis, who many rejected in Sweet Smell of Success because they were used to seeing him in nice-guy roles.
Casablanca — You could cite any number of Humphrey Bogart noirs as influences on Breaking Bad, including The Big Sleep, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and The Caine Mutiny (which Mike was watching in an episode in the early part of season five, and which was fitting to describe Walter White at the time, since the lead in Caine Mutiny was a paranoid and unhinged skipper). The third episode of the second season, “Bit By a Dead Bee,” is an homage to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and Gilligan has been quoted, himself, as striving to end Breaking Bad on a note similar to the ending of Casablanca: Not a happy ending, but an immensely satisfying one.
Cool Hand Luke — A first-season episode of Breaking Bad, “Crazy Handful of Nothin’” is actually a quote from the Paul Newman prison drama, and you can draw certain parallels between Newman’s character and Walter White in the earlier seasons of Breaking Bad: He was an anti-hero who broke the rules, and we rooted for him anyway. Cool Hand Luke was also smart, and instead of using violence, he often outwitted his enemies, and as the title suggests, he played it cool. Moreover, Cool Hand Luke helped to evolve and define the modern anti-hero, with which many shows have become obsessed, though none better than Breaking Bad. One thing going for Cool Hand Luke and not Breaking Bad, however, was Paul Newman’s looks: Good God, that man was handsome.
Flight of the Phoenix (1965) — “4 Days Out,” the ninth episode of the second season, is pretty much a straight-up riff on the 1965 film about a group of men (including Jimmy Stewart) whose plane crashes and strands them out in the desert. Basically, they are forced to make a flyable plane out of the wreckage, just as Jesse and Walter are forced to do in “4 Days Out,” when they are stranded out in the desert after their mobile meth lab runs out of battery. Walt uses spare keys, some change, and some sponges to create a strong enough battery to jumpstart the RV. Like early seasons of Breaking Bad, Flight of the Phoenix was also not a hit with audiences, but with time, has gained a huge cult following.
Home Fries — I don’t know that the Drew Barrymore/Luke Wilson romantic comedy (of sorts) itself has had a huge influence of Breaking Bad, but it’s nevertheless important because Vince Gilligan wrote the film. In fact, it was the movie screenplay he submitted into a screenwriting contest, which he won, which essentially launched Gilligan’s career. Were it not for Home Fries, there may have never been a Breaking Bad, although the movie itself is fairly forgettable, other than the fact that it’s a movie no one quite expected from the marketing. The only lasting memory I have of the movie is of the helicopters, which made a bizarre entrance into the final act, and which I have since learned Vince Gilligan is obsessed with (don’t be too surprised should a military helicopter makes its way into the final four episodes of the series).
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