Drama

1950s Suburbia in CinemaScope

Gregory Peck wonders if he should take a new job. Image: lsakdjf ksdfj
Gregory Peck wonders if he should take a new job with higher pay. Hmm. Image: dvdbeaver.com

*Spoiler Alert*

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:

  1. Peck’s memories of World War II.
  2. Peck’s job and the politics therein.
  3. The family’s move to a different house.
  4. A media magnate who forfeited his marriage and his daughter for his career.
  5. The speech that Peck is assigned to write for his boss, which appears to be his entire job description.

Good thing the acting is top-notch. Some of the best actors of the day appear in this film, such as Lee J. Cobb and Keenan Wynn.

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.

JEnnifer Jones lsdkjf alksdfj . Image: laksdjf ksdjf
Jennifer Jones is ready to strangle Gregory Peck. Image: ApkXda.com

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.

cinescope-blogathon_riverkwai

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18 thoughts on “1950s Suburbia in CinemaScope

  1. Yummy post. Peck was so good at hinting at his inner landscape (as was Jennifer Jones). They made for a good screen team here. Amazing how those 50s film hold up today, isn’t it?

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  2. Sounds like it’s along similar lines as ‘Revolutionary Road,’ which, although it’s a recent movie, the book was written around the same time, if I’m not mistaken. Curious how, as the 50s ended and the 60s began, pop culture was reexamining the values that people believed were so essential to American life not that long ago.

    Thanks for your post.

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    1. I’ve not seen “Revolutionary Road”, but will check it out now that you’ve mentioned it. Thanks!

      Thanks also for organizing and co-hosting this blogathon. What a diverse collection of films made in CinemaScope!

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  3. It’s an underrated film and not shown enough. The novel was a huge bestseller at the time and this was considered a prestige picture. It’s very well done, but rarely mentioned in the Gregory Peck filmography (nor Jennifer Jones’ either). You’ve inspired me to watch it again.

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  4. I have always admired and loved Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. I agree that it is one of Peck’s best characters, and Jennifer Jones is truly wonderful as his wife. It is an insightful look into marriage, as well as the effects of war upon the soldiers who endured and fought. I have a different opinion about Peck’s interview than you: “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.” As he thought about his answer, he saw so much of his past, an extremely complex one, and I believe he just reacted like a true man in basically saying that he as a person is none of their business — they should be interested in him as an employee and nothing else. I really liked your review … excellent look at a favorite movie. Thanks for joining in to our blogathon!

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  5. I saw this film mainly for the cast, and I agree it has highs and lows. The war situations and Peck’s realtionship with his boss are the best part!
    Wow, very well put: CinemaScope makes it seem large, but the themes ar clautrophobic indeed.
    Kisses!
    Le

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  6. Peck is up there with my all time faves. Perhaps its the order I was introduced to his films, but I always had him down as a romantic lead or as a family man. Thanks for reminding me about this overlooked gem – I must give it a re-watch!

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  7. Sounds like such a sad yet thought-provoking movie. I liked your comparison between the Cinemascope format and the claustrophobic themes. I have loved the movies I’ve seen with Gregory Peck and hadn’t heard of this one. I will keep my eye out for it. Thanks for your post, Ruth! By the way, on another subject, my husband and I got to see Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window on the big screen yesterday. It was sure fun to see it again, especially at the theater.

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    1. It is a thought-provoking movie, like you said. The acting is really good, especially Jennifer Jones’ performance. And I’m so happy to hear you saw “Rear Window” on the big screen! What a thrill! I bet it seemed like a brand-new movie. I’m hoping it comes here soon. 🙂

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