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Nunnally Johnson
Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones, Fredric March, Marisa Pavan, Lee J. Cobb, Ann Harding, Keenan Wynn, Gene Lockhart
Writing Credits:
Nunnally Johnson, Sloan Wilson (novel)

Based on the novel by Sloan Wilson, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit stars Gregory Peck as a haunted New York executive who defies convention and decides his family is more important than his career in this post-war melodrama scripted and directed by the celebrated Nunnally Johnson (The Three Faces of Eve).

Box Office:
$1.9 million.
Domestic Gross
$7.000 million.

Rated NR

Widescreen 2.55:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 4.0
Spanish Monaural
French Monaural

Runtime: 152 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 8/9/2005

• Audio Commentary with Author and Publisher James Monaco
• Movietone News Footage
• Still Gallery
• Restoration Comparison
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit: Fox Studio Classics (1956)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 20, 2005)

As implied by its title, 1956’s The Man In the Gray Flannel Suit focuses on a mild-mannered businessman. Tommy Rath (Gregory Peck) lives with his wife Betsy (Jennifer Jones) and kids. He works in a safe but low-paying job. Financial problems occur and Betsy pressures Tommy to move up in the world. He prefers to behave conservatively, and she blames his lack of “guts” on his experiences in World War II. These pressures bother him, and he inquires about a higher-paying job in advertising.

While he ponders his shift, the movie flashes back to what Tommy did during the War. We see some of his conflicts as well as his affair with Italian girl Maria Montagne (Marisa Pavan). He falls in love with her while he awaits deployment to Asia. On their last night together, she drops a bombshell: she’s pregnant with his child.

After we learn this, the film shifts back to the present and shows Tommy’s job interview. As part of this, he needs to write a quick autobiography. This allows for another war flashback to his combat in the Pacific. The most significant event there occurs when Tommy accidentally kills a fellow soldier with a grenade. Tommy goes a little bonkers when this happens, as he refuses to acknowledge the GI’s demise.

Back in the present, Tommy gets the job at UBC despite – or perhaps because of – his terse autobiography. He starts to work on a big project with “Type A” boss Ralph Hopkins (Frederic March). We get a glimpse of how Tommy’s life might go if he enters the corporate world as Ralph works so much that he rarely deals with his family. We learn that his 18-year-old daughter Susan (Gigi Perreau) is a party girl who dallies with much older cads, and his son Bobby died in combat. The rest of the film follows Tommy’s work with Hopkins, its effect on his family life, and related issues. We also see Hopkins’ issues, especially in regard to his daughter.

My only prior experience with the work of director Nunnally Johnson came from 1957’s Three Faces of Eve. A stodgy social drama, it felt more like a public service announcement than a real feature film.

Because of that, I feared the worst from Flannel, especially since it seemed to take on its own social issues. Happily, it keeps that side of things to a minimum and works better as an exploration of how various elements affect the lives of men.

Granted, it does all this via an odd structure. The film starts with a little about Tommy’s current life and family before it heads to extended war flashbacks. These seem a little premature, as we barely get to know the 1956 Tommy before we learn about the 1945 edition. Still, I guess we know enough, as we see him as conservative, semi-henpecked and not respected by his kids. In other words, he’s a bit of a non-entity, and I suppose the filmmakers thought it best to show a more robust Tommy before we connected too much with the milquetoast one.

Strange structural conceits continue even after the flashbacks finish, however, mostly due to the elements related to Hopkins. Once we get involved with Tommy, the film suddenly splits to tell us more about Hopkins’ life. I suppose this acts as the “cautionary tale” of what Tommy’s life could become, especially since there’s a good connection between him and Hopkins.

However, I couldn’t help but feel that the movie failed to balance the two stories very well. The Tommy material dominates and the Hopkins scenes become somewhat incidental. At more than two and a half hours, Flannel is already plenty long, but I get the impression some material related to Hopkins fell on the cutting room floor. The flick might have worked better if it made the Tommy/Hopkins split more equal and concentrated a little more on the latter.

That said, I find a lot to like in Flannel. I especially appreciate the film’s subtlety. Where it easily could turn melodramatic and overwrought, it stays quiet and calm. Admittedly, one would expect low-key storytelling for a tale with such an unassuming title, but I still find the laid back nature of the flick to be a pleasant surprise. Usually these socially-conscious films from the Fifties go for the easy morals, but Flannel stays true and keeps things restrained.

The cast help matters. Peck was a good choice for Tommy since he plays quiet and calm so well. Despite various provocations, he keeps the character from becoming hysterical or aggressive. He never seems so passive that we can’t accept the World War II Tommy as a leader, but he maintains an icy detachment to the “modern” Tommy that works.

The rest of the cast offer nicely honest performances as well. Toward the end, the movie gets a little screechy, but not to an extreme. It also makes Betsy into a little more of a shrew than I’d like. I do appreciate the chemistry and bond between Peck and March, though. The pair don’t interact a ton, but they show a genuine connection that allows their scenes to prosper. March conveys the paternal elements without mushiness.

That tone remains the best thing about Flannel. It seems like a movie more at home with efforts from the Seventies than those of the Fifties. Except for a little goo at the end, it lays off the sappiness and presents a rich and compelling look at the effect the workplace has on the common man.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus C-

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.55:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Mostly highs dominated this good transfer.

In general, the sharpness appeared positive. Wider shots sometimes came across as a bit ill defined and soft, but these occasions weren’t excessive. Usually the image seemed acceptably distinct and detailed. No issues related to jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, but mild edge enhancement marred the visuals at times. Source flaws remained mild. The occasional speck popped up and I saw some blotches, but otherwise the movie seemed pretty clean.

Despite the blandness implied by its title, Flannel offered a reasonably natural palette. It stayed on the subdued side of things, but the colors were accurate and clear. Black levels also appeared deep and rich, while shadows were nicely detailed and concise. The occasional softness and source defects caused me to knock down my grade to a “B”, but I still felt pleased with the image of Flannel.

The Dolby Digital 4.0 soundtrack of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit held up even better. The soundfield seemed more ambitious than usual for a film of its generation. It featured a lot of directional dialogue, all of which popped up in the correct locations. I’ve heard other flicks of this era that demonstrated flawed localization, but that didn’t happen here. The lines were properly placed and meshed together surprisingly well.

In addition, music demonstrated clean stereo imaging on the infrequent instances the score appeared. Effects appeared accurately placed. They blended neatly. Surround usage remained light but decent. The combat scenes offered the most compelling information and brought the rear speakers to life well. The rest of the movie was more subdued but added minor life to the proceedings.

Audio quality was acceptable. Speech sounded somewhat brittle at times, but they were always intelligible and without significant concerns. Music was generally full and distinct. The score didn’t excel but it showed better than decent life. Outside of the combat scenes, effects played a small role. In the battle sequences, they showed very nice definition and vividness. Bass response added good oomph to the package. Hiss intruded on the audio at times but didn’t cause significant distractions. The audio for Flannel was ambitious for a nearly 50-year-old flick and merited a solid “B+”.

As we head to the supplements, we begin with an audio commentary from author and publisher James Monaco. He provides a running, screen-specific track that tells us… not much. Monaco mostly covers basics about the cast and crew, reflections on the era in which the film is set, and comparisons between the movie and the book. These are occasionally useful but not often very helpful.

Lots of dead air occurs, and Monaco tends toward obvious statements like “She’s the stay-at-home wife” and “The war refers to World War II”. At one point he even offers this gem: “Maria is Marisa Pavan. Her real name is… I’ll have to look that up.” Maybe he should have done so before he recorded the commentary. (Someone must slip him the answer later, as he finally reveals Pavan’s true name toward the end.) He also worries that his notes will “break the mood” and complains about people who “talk in the middle of movies”. Doesn’t he understand that’s the point of this track? Skip this mostly poor commentary.

A staple of the Fox Studio Classics DVDs, we find a Movietone Newsreel. Entitled “1956 Premiere”, this short clip shows us some luminaries at both the east and west coast openings of the film. A Still Gallery offers 15 photos. We see a poster along with a mix of candid shots and images from the film.

A Restoration Comparison provides text that covers the work done for this DVD and then shows splitscreen images of a mix of different masterings of the film. Lastly, some advertisements appear. In addition to the trailer for Flannel, we find a section called Movie Classics. This includes promos for Gentleman’s Agreement, The Grapes of Wrath, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, and The Three Faces of Eve.

Surprisingly low-key and involving, The Man In the Gray Flannel Suit lacks consistency but it presents a rich look at its subject. Told without melodrama or hysterics, it confronts the pressures on the middle class working man and delves into its subject with honesty and depth. The DVD provides solid picture and audio along with a few extras marred by a weak audio commentary. Despite that flaw, there’s enough to like about the movie and its presentation to recommend this uncommonly subtle piece.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.4545 Stars Number of Votes: 11
5 3:
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