The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is a 1956 American drama film based on the 1955 novel of the same name by Sloan Wilson. The film focuses on Tom Rath, a young World War II veteran trying to balance his marriage and family life with the demands of a new job while dealing with the aftereffects of his war service. The film stars Gregory Peck as Rath and Jennifer Jones as his wife Betsy, with Fredric March, Lee J. Cobb, Keenan Wynn and Marisa Pavan in supporting roles. It was entered at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.[4]

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
1956 Movie Poster
Directed byNunnally Johnson
Produced byDarryl F. Zanuck
Written byNunnally Johnson (screenplay)
Sloan Wilson (novel)
StarringGregory Peck
Jennifer Jones
Fredric March
Music byBernard Herrmann
CinematographyCharles G. Clarke
Edited byDorothy Spencer
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • April 12, 1956 (1956-04-12)[1]
Running time
153 min.
CountryUnited States
Box office$4,350,000 (US rentals)[3]


Ten years after the end of World War II, Tom Rath (Gregory Peck) is living in suburban Connecticut with his wife Betsy (Jennifer Jones) and three children; he's having difficulty supporting his family on his salary writing for a nonprofit organization. Tom is also dealing with flashbacks from his combat service as an Army Captain in both the European and Pacific theaters, involving men that he killed (including, by accident, his best friend), and a young Italian girl named Maria (Marisa Pavan), with whom he had a brief but heartfelt affair in Italy despite his being in a relationship with Betsy at the time. Before he left Maria for the final time to go back into battle, Tom was told that she was pregnant and was going to keep the baby. He would never see her or the child again.

When an expected inheritance from Tom's recently deceased grandmother turns out to have been depleted, leaving only her large and unsaleable mansion, Betsy pressures Tom to seek a higher-paying job. Acting on a tip from a fellow train commuter, Tom applies for an opening in public relations at television network UBC. Asked to write his autobiography as part of the interview process, he refuses. Hired nonetheless, he helps network president Ralph Hopkins (Fredric March) launch a national mental health campaign. Hopkins is powerful and highly respected, but unbeknownst to his employees, his workaholic habits have caused him to be estranged from his wife and his rebellious daughter, who soon elopes with an unsuitable man.

Tom is initially supervised by Bill Ogden (Henry Daniell), a micromanager and office politician who rejects Tom's drafts of an important Hopkins speech intended to launch the campaign, substituting his own draft consisting of what Ogden thinks Hopkins wants to hear. Tom plans to play along and accept Ogden's draft but, coaxed by Betsy, presents his original ideas to Hopkins instead. Hopkins, who has just received the unwelcome news of his daughter's elopement, is receptive to Tom's criticism and thinks Tom resembles his own late son, who refused to accept an officer's commission in World War II and was subsequently killed in action as an enlisted man. Hopkins now regrets having ignored his family and advises Tom not to make the same mistake.

Betsy abruptly sells the family's modest dwelling and moves them into Tom's late grandmother's mansion, "Dragonwyck," only to find that Edward (Joseph Sweeney), the old woman's longtime caretaker, is claiming that Tom's grandmother had bequeathed him the estate. Judge Bernstein (Lee J. Cobb) intercedes and presents evidence that suggests that not only did Edward forge the bequest letter, but he also padded his bills, thus depleting the estate and accumulating a large fortune in the town's bank that he could not otherwise explain. The Raths are able to keep the house.

At his new job, Tom runs into elevator operator Caesar (Keenan Wynn), a sergeant with whom he'd served in Italy. Caesar is married to Maria's cousin and tells Tom that Maria and her son by Tom are desperate for money in their still war-ravaged country. Tom has kept his affair and child a secret from Betsy, but he now decides to tell her, remembering her admonition to be honest at all times. Betsy reacts angrily and speeds away recklessly in her car. They reconcile at the local police station. Tom and Betsy go to Judge Bernstein to set up a trust fund for Tom's son in Italy. That night, Hopkins calls to ask Tom to accompany him on a trip to California in support of the new campaign. Tom declines, saying he just wants to "work 9 to 5 and spend the rest of the time with my family," a decision Hopkins respectfully accepts.



Contemporary reviews of the film were somewhat mixed. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times declared it "a mature, fascinating and often quite tender and touching film."[5] Variety wrote that the film "often seems episodic and it's over-long," finding Johnson's direction "uneven" and holding him "responsible for the fact that the picture so determinedly misses the point of the book which made the flannel suit a symbol rather than just a garment."[6] Harrison's Reports called it "one of the most absorbing pictures of the year," with "exceptionally fine" acting.[7] John McCarten of The New Yorker thought the film was too long and suggested that the flashbacks should have been trimmed, concluding that "if it were an old-fashioned serial, I'm sure we might have been able to tolerate it. In one massive dose, though, it's just too damned much, and I think you'd be better off taking a tranquilizer pill than going through all this for the sake of escaping the world and its woes."[8] The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote: "As a sociological document, a particular view of the contemporary American middle-class scene, the film is uneasily fascinating. Otherwise, this is a characteristic best-seller adaptation, over-long, over-loaded with 'production values', padded out with flashbacks to the war years, and efficiently impersonal in its approach."[9]

The film, like the novel on which it was based, became hugely popular. Historian Robert Schultz argues that the film and the novel are cultural representations of what Adlai Stevenson had described in 1955 as a "crisis in the western world", "collectivism colliding with individualism," the collective demands of corporate organizations against traditional roles of spouse and parent.[10] That increased corporate organization of society, Schultz notes, reduced white-collar workers' (represented by Tom Rath and the other gray-suited "yes men") control over what they did and how they did it as they adapted to the "organized system" described and critiqued by contemporary social critics such as Paul Goodman, C. Wright Mills, and William H. Whyte, Jr.[11]

See also


  1. "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
  2. Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p250
  3. 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
  4. "Festival de Cannes: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit". Retrieved 2009-02-04.
  5. Crowther, Bosley (April 13, 1956). "Screen: Mature, Tender and Touching:". The New York Times: 21.
  6. "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit". Variety: 6. April 4, 1956.
  7. "'The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit' with Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones and Fredric March". Harrison's Reports: 50. March 31, 1956.
  8. McCarten, John (April 21, 1956). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 75–76.
  9. "Man in the Grey Flannel Suit". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 23 (270): 86. July 1956.
  10. Schultz, Soured on the System: Disaffected Men in Twentieth-Century American Film (McFarland, 2012), 37-43; Stevenson, "A Purpose for Modern Woman," Woman's Home Companion (September 1955): 29-31.
  11. Schultz, Soured on the System, 48-50, 53-54, 64-69, 71-72; Goodman, Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized System (Random House, 1960); Mills, White Collar: The American Middle Classes (Oxford, 1951); Whyte, The Organization Man (Simon & Schuster, 1956).
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