The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Movie Review
A Madison Avenue advertising executive, Rath lives in a comfortable Connecticut bedroom community and commutes in and out of the city, leaving him little time for his wife Betsy (Jennifer Jones) and his funny, television-addicted kids. Betsy, who in typical '50s suburban style is deeply concerned about keeping up with the Joneses, pushes Rath to find a better job, and he agrees even as he realizes that more work and stress is not what he wants. In fact, he's heading toward what we now call a mid-life crisis, although they didn't have a word for it back then.
Rath is well-pressed and professional on the surface (and kind of boring to be honest), but there's trouble brewing within. Flashbacks to war-torn Italy introduces us to Rath's Italian lover and shows us the kinds of horrific memories that millions of veterans brought back from battle and had to work through themselves, without the help of post-traumatic stress counselors. On the home front, Betsy is nagging and tightening the screws, and there's also a bit of legal trouble regarding a contested inheritance to keep Rath busy. Rath's new job with hard-driving Ralph Hopkins (Frederic March) is also turning out to be too much to handle.
And then, Mamma Mia! Rath finds out that he's the father of a little bambino back in Italy. Now all his assumptions about his various possible futures are tossed into the air as he tries to figure out how to the do the right thing given this shocking new variable.
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is far more valuable as documentation of very particular time and place in American society than it is as drama. It's far too long and plodding, and Peck comes across as even more stifled than his Rath character should be. A lively supporting cast helps somewhat, but with its glacial pacing and long pauses, this is the kind of melodrama that makes you want to turn on the subtitles and hit fast-forward until something noteworthy happens.
Still, it's fun to see what a typical New York office was like 50 years ago (well-dressed men sitting on great furniture in spacious offices talking things over without a computer or an e-mail message in sight), and Rath's dilemma -- the struggle to live a balanced life that puts his family on an equal footing with his career -- is as relevant today as it was back then, perhaps even more so.