This is our opinion: Some of the finest acting we’ve seen from Gregory Peck is not as a crusty sea captain or an egotistical WWII General.
Some of his finest work is as a married father of three kids, a man who commutes to work daily and agonizes over The Right Thing To Do.
Peck is an actor who can handle Hollywood’s big-screen challenges (e.g. giant whales with a vendetta), but it’s the portrayal of life’s everyday struggles – and the associated price tags – that test his resolve.
However, Peck’s character has an added layer: He grapples with inner demons who won’t stay put and are clouding his marriage, his career, and his relationship with his children.
The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit is a 1956 drama based on the bestselling Sloan Wilson novel that examines middle-class America and its preoccupation with money. In the movie, Peck is persuaded (against his better judgement) to take a job at a television company as a PR consultant.
A telling scene occurs early in the film. When Peck is interviewed for the PR position, he must answer the question: The most significant thing about me is… Peck lights a cigarette as he slowly realizes he can’t provide an answer.
There are numerous themes in this film, not all of them successfully handled, but who could resist when using the larger-than-life CinemaScope format? Each storyline could be a movie of its own:
- Peck’s memories of World War II.
- Peck’s job and the politics therein.
- The family’s move to a different house.
- A media magnate who forfeited his marriage and his daughter for his career.
- The speech that Peck is assigned to write for his boss, which appears to be his entire job description.
Plus Fredric March. He plays Peck’s boss and the owner of a television company, and is compelling as a work junkie. He knows his obsession with his career is ruining his life and his family, but he can’t stop.
The most interesting character, we feel, is Peck’s wife, played by Jennifer Jones.
Jones has the thankless job of being Peck’s wife, a woman who must deal with the endless demands of children and broken appliances. She’s frustrated with their house and with Peck and his cautiousness. But we soon realize the real reason she’s frustrated is because Peck continues to be haunted by his experiences in WWII.
Jones: “Ever since the war –”
Peck: “Why are you still harping about the war? … It’s gone and forgotten.”
Jones: “I don’t believe it. Not for you, anyway.”
Her best scene is when Peck finally tells her that he had an affair while he was fighting in Italy. As he is speaking, Jones abruptly cuts him off and tells him about the difficult summer she was experiencing while he was having his little fling. Jones is calm, even a little wistful as she speaks, but her tone says Don’t Mess With Me. In not so many words, she’s telling Peck the war wasn’t just about him.
It’s a slap in the face, just as Jones intended.
Because it’s filmed in CinemaScope, the film appears large, but the themes are claustrophobic. An audience needs all that wide-screen space to absorb the melodramatic turmoil and believe a happy ending is possible.
The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit is a rambling movie, but it does have a timeless message about the conflicts between a family and a career, which makes its grand cinematography feel strangely intimate.
The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit: starring Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones, Fredric March. Written & directed by Nunnally Johnson. 20th Century-Fox, 1956, Colour, 153 mins.
This post is part of the Cinemascope Blogathon, hosted by Classic Becky’s Brain Food and Wide Screen World. Click HERE for a list of all the entries.