Gregory Peck stars as Tom Rath, the ‘man in the gray flannel suit’ of the title. The title was a metaphor for the corporate culture in America post-World War 2, and Rath is just such a man. A veteran of the war which finished ten years earlier, Rath has trouble coping with his life as a white collar office worker, and with a wife who wants him to be more ambitious and earn more money. He suffers with flashbacks to his time in the war, and memories of the Italian woman he fell in love with when he was a soldier – and their romance may have lasting repercussions.
About twenty minutes after I started watching the film, I considered turning it off, because I was expecting it to be boring. I did stick with it though, and I’m glad. Gregory Peck is one of my favourite actors, but it could be said that he didn’t have a great deal of range. He’s pretty perfect for this role though, and you could feel his frustration at trying to satisfy a demanding wife, connect with his uninterested children, hold down a good job (while coping with a colleague who seemed determined to put him down), deal with his past coming back to haunt him, and on top of all that solve a dispute regarding his late grandmother’s estate. Jennifer Jones was good as Tom’s wife Betsy, although I didn’t thnk she was a particularly sympathetic character.
There was quite a lot going on, and I felt that at least one subplot – where Tom is trying to settle his grandmother’s estate and is challenged by a former member of her staff, who claims that the old lady left the house to him – was probably unnecessary. Nonetheless, it was worth watching these few scenes if only for the excellent role played by Lee J. Cobb, as a sympathetic Judge who helps Tom (and later features again, helping with another problem). If Cobb had had a bigger part, he might well have stolen the whole film! Frederic March also played a superb part as Tom’s new boss, who has family problems of his own – a wife who he barely sees, and a daughter who is ashamed of him.
The ending does perhaps wrap things up a little too conveniently, but it was nice to see a clear resolution to the story.
Overall, while the film is slightly overlong (2 and a half hours), and possibly could have benefitted from some editing, it is definitely worth watching, especially for fans of Peck or March. I wouldn’t exactly call it enjoyable – it’s not supposed to be a happy film – but it did get under my skin somehow, and I would recommend it (it certainly made me think).
Year of release: 1956
Director: Nunnally Johnson
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Writers: Sloan Wilson (book), Nunnally Johnson
Main cast: Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones, Frederic March