The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

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The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit - 1955 - poster.png
1956 Movie Poster
Directed by Nunnally Johnson
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Written by Nunnally Johnson (screenplay)
Sloan Wilson (novel)
Starring Gregory Peck
Jennifer Jones
Fredric March
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Charles G. Clarke
Edited by Dorothy Spencer
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • May 8, 1956 (1956-05-08)
Running time
153 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,670,000[1]
Box office $4,350,000 (US rentals)[2]
This article is about the 1956 film. For the 1955 novel by Sloan Wilson, see The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (novel).

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 WWII veteran trying to balance his marriage and family life with the demands of his work for a New York television network, while dealing with the aftereffects of his war service. The film stars Gregory Peck as Tom 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.[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, and having difficulty supporting his family on his salary. Tom is also dealing with flashbacks from his war service 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 being married to Betsy at the time. Before he left Maria for the final time to go back into battle, she told him she was pregnant, but he never saw 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 not saleable mansion, Betsy pressures Tom to seek a higher-paying job. Tom interviews for an opening at the television network UBC, but when asked to write his autobiography as part of the interview process, he refuses. He is hired anyway for a public relations job, helping the network president Ralph Hopkins (Fredric March) launch a national mental health campaign. Hopkins is powerful and highly respected at the office, 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 belittles Tom's efforts in writing a speech for Hopkins to launch the campaign, and substitutes a draft of his own containing what Ogden thinks Hopkins wants to hear. At first Tom plans to play along with office politics and accept Ogden's draft, but pushed by Betsy, Tom ends up bluntly critiquing the draft as being phony, and presenting his original speech 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 is similar to his own late son, who refused to accept an officer's commission in WWII and was killed in action. Hopkins now regrets that he worked so much instead of spending time with his family, and advises Tom not to let anything keep him from his own family.

Meanwhile, Betsy, anxious to move to a better house now that Tom is making more money, sells the family's modest home and plans for them to move into Tom's late grandmother's mansion, only to find that Edward (Joseph Sweeney), a former servant at the mansion, is claiming that Tom's grandmother bequeathed her house to Edward. A court battle ensues, in which the evidence suggests that Edward forged the bequest letter and also padded bills, thus depleting the estate. The Raths end up keeping the mansion.

At his new job, Tom meets Caesar (Keenan Wynn), a soldier with whom he served in Italy, who is now an elevator operator. Caesar, who married Maria's cousin, tells Tom that Maria and her illegitimate son by Tom are desperate for money. Although Tom has previously kept his affair and the resulting child a secret from Betsy, he decides to tell her, remembering her advice to be honest about Hopkins' speech. Betsy becomes angry and speeds away in her car, but Tom follows her and they reconcile, later setting up a trust fund for Tom's son in Italy. In the midst of Tom's argument with Betsy, Hopkins calls Tom to ask that he, rather than Ogden, accompany Hopkins on an important trip to California. Tom declines, saying he just wants to work 9 to 5 and spend the rest of the time with his family, which Hopkins accepts.



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 two-time presidential candidate (1952 and 1956) Adlai Stevenson described in a 1955 commencement address to Smith College women as a "crisis" in the western world, one Stevenson defined as "collectivism colliding with individualism," the collective corporate organization of postwar social and economic life.[4] 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.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit". Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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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