The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

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

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]

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 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 rejects Tom's drafts of an important Hopkins speech intended to launch the campaign and substitutes a draft of his own consisting of what Ogden thinks Hopkins wants to hear. At first Tom plans to play along with office politics and accept Ogden's draft, but coaxed by Betsy, openly derides the draft as false modesty and presents his original ideas to Hopkins instead. Hopkins, who has just received 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.

Meanwhile, Betsy, eager to move to a better house, 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 at the mansion, is claiming that Tom's grandmother had bequeathed him the estate. Judge Bernstein (veteran character actor Lee J. Cobb) intercedes, presenting evidence suggesting not only that Edward had forged the bequest letter but also padded the woman's bills, depleting the estate and accumulating a large fortune in the town's bank he could not otherwise explain. The Raths keep the mansion.

At his new job, Tom meets Caesar (Keenan Wynn), a sergeant with whom he'd served in Italy, now the UBS Building's elevator operator. Caesar, who'd married Maria's cousin, tells Tom that Maria and her illegitimate son by Tom are desperate for money in their still war-ravaged country. 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 grows furious and speeds away in her car, but she runs out of gas and they reconcile at the local police station. Tom and Betsy ask Judge Bernstein to set up a trust fund for Tom's son in Italy. That night, Hopkins calls Tom to ask that he accompany Hopkins on a trip to California associated with the new campaign. Tom declines, saying he just "wants to work 9 to 5 and spend the rest of the time with his family", which Hopkins ruefully 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 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.[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


  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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