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on March 13, 2002
I have seen Gregory Peck in quite a few films, and he is a fine actor. Some will disagree with me, but I believe he gave the strongest performance of his career in "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit."
The story, set in the middle of the 1950s (Eisenhower, tail fins, cowboys and indians, martinis before dinner), concerns Tom Rath (in his middle thirties, it appears) struggling to achieve a better life for his family, but at the same time trying to maintain some sense of integrity. The problem arises when he agrees to work as a PR man for a big communications company on Madison Avenue, and he realizes that deception and chicanery are integral to the advertising business. The movie is probably one of the most effective dramatizations of this dilemma you'll ever see. "It's easy for a man to be full of integrity when there's money in the bank and food on the table," he says to his wife at one point, "but when someone offers you a good-paying job doing something dishonest, then it's a different story." (I don't remember his exact words, but that's the jist of it.)
The film targets big business and exposes United Broadcasting Company (the fictional company Tom works for) as peopled with shallow, back-biting, simple-minded sloganeering creeps--like the two guys Tom Rath (Peck) works with. But at the same time it presents the business titan, the "captain of industry", in sympathetic terms. The parallel story in this film concerns Tom's boss, a communications tycoon in his early 60s. Outwardly he is a huge success, but his home life is a miserable failure, largely because he dedicated himself body and soul to building the business. As a result, he hardly knows his daughter, and when he tries to re-establish ties with her, she rejects him utterly. At this point, he realizes that he has nothing left worth living for. You can't help but feel sorry for him, as he was only doing what he thought was right all his life.
What really gives this film depth and makes it striking are the World War II flashback sequences, which burst through the tranquility of the 50s like vivid nightmares. The shadow of the war hangs in the background like a curse. Tom's boss lost a son in the war, and from this loss he has never really recovered. And there are dark secrets about Tom Rath, concerning WWII, that he never reveals to his wife until the end. One morning, on his commute to work, Tom sees a fur-lined jacket and suddenly flashes back to a horrible incident when he and another soldier were so cold they brutally stabbed two young German soldiers (they look like they're 15 years old) for their coats. Another time he sees a plane in the sky and remembers an airborne drop in heavy flak. When they hit they ground, there is so much confusion that he accidentally kills one of his NCOs with a grenade. He is temporarily deranged by this, so much so that he carries the body for miles and miles, refusing to believe all the medics when they say his buddy is dead.
He never talks about any of this. All of the inner turmoil and horror are kept bottled up beneath a calm and gentlemanly facade.
But Tom Rath is not a freak or a misfit. He has his faults and has committed his share of sins, but at the same time you sense that he is a very decent man always trying to do the right thing. In that sense, he seems like a real human being, not a two-dimensional action hero or a cartoon villain.
I hope this film comes out on DVD sometime soon. In addition to its great story and characterization, it is a very visually appealing film. The combat scenes are very realistically done, and the sense of 1950s America as a time/place of newly-found luxury and opulence is effectively captured by the camera.
If you liked "The Best Years of Our Lives" (also about WWII vets trying to adjust to civilian life) you will probably like this film.
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on April 14, 2014
This movie has already been criticized by earlier reviewers as a hybrid with at least 4 distinct plots, only one of which is resolved at its final curtain. It is the least original and far the most conventional of the lot. The most fascinating theme concerned the ultimate fate of an honest person in the fundamentally dishonest world of Big Business. The next most intriguing was how the battle of two wills would resolve ownership of the House that Tom Rath lived in. One really looked forward to a no-holds-barred court battle that the American Cinema handles so well, but it was not to be. It is hard to know whether the novel, that I have not read, is the root of the problem. The screenwriters are at fault for the rather dreadful dialogue between the children and their parents that represented the Rath abode as a House of Junior Zombies, and such humour as it generated was sickly --------think of chicken pox. Jennifer Jones and Gregory Peck are competent actors, but they need a good story or a great director to set them alight. That is what they got in “Duel in the Sun” where the fire of their lust burns so much more brightly ( and they with it) than the tame fireside embers chit-chat that characterizes the greater part of their relationship here, until the final unexpected blow-up and its even more surprising denouement. Nunnally Johnson is not a director who impresses me, and even the great Frederic March turns in a performance that is poor by his standards. The one bright spot is Lee J Cobb’s benign and slightly comical Judge Bernstein, a role so different from his usual macho roles. He could, on this showing, have become one of Hollywood’s great comedy actors if given more chances. From the visual and acoustic standpoints, the film shows very well on this DVD, and the availability of English Subtitles is a blessing to a hard-of-hearing octogenarian like myself.
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on July 22, 2003
One of the most interesting movies of the 50s, and one which accurately portrays the rarely-approached subject of ordinary men trying to fit in their contemporary workplace. Peck is a little miscast (too tall and striking to possess the "ordinary" quality necessary for the role) and Jennifer could be a little more varied in her characterization (she needs a "light" moment or two) but they are both as usual fun to watch.
Peck's interview lunch is one of the best scenes, as is Ann Harding's plea to Frederich March. The other reviewers have not mentioned how the color and Cinemascope really add to the feel of the Fifties , and this cannot be stated enough - see it on a big-inch TV if possible. I think the wardrobe is one of the best in cinema history - it looks exactly as if it came off the racks of the department stores during the period. A great story, and one which anyone who has been employed in the business world as a white-collar worker, and who has aged thru their thirites, will identify with. Recommended.
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on May 22, 2014
This movie is quite interesting... It shows what it takes to advance and what a world is built on...workaholism... It shows its age in that there is still a zone of freedom offered to Gregory Peck's character and his boss still has some values... I wonder if in today's reality people are so inclined to respect each other... Nonetheless a great movie to watch and enjoy!
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on June 3, 2001
Gregory Peck stars as a Madison Avenue executive whose life reaches several crises at once. His wife, Jennifer Jones, is pushing him to make more money and to be more successful, but without losing his ideals or honesty in a business that values neither one of those. His experiences in World War II are coming back to haunt him, and his ownership of his grandmother's house is being challenged by her former servant. Fredric March co-stars as his new boss, a man who put his business before his family, a decision whose consequences he must now live with. There are a lot of lofty ideas being bounced around in this story, and they tend to center around the importance of family and being true to one's self and ideals. Peck is his usual solid self, probably the perfect choice for this kind of role. Jones gets the big emotional scene in the film, and she plays it to the hilt. March gives a very moving, sympathetic performance, while Ann Harding as his distant wife has a couple of good scenes. Although this is very much a film of the Fifties, the basic message of the movie still has its impact today. It's honestly presented, well acted and written, and well worth watching.
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on April 20, 2001
The complexity of life in the mid-20th century is subtly displayed in this reflection on the cross-currents of life. Ironic elements -- the central character joining a broadcasting company while his kids are glued to the tube -- and character studies including a 1950s wife that is a partially reformed Lady MacBeth provide low-keyed commentary not common in today's films. I use this in a univesity class on organizational theory and leadership, pairing it with literature of the era. It engages students in discussion of roles, role conflict, leader behavior, etc. Student reactions to customs (smoking in the office, cocktails, rather sexist comments) and the treatment of diversity, 50s style, is particularly fascinating. Non-white Americans and international students question many conventions that are otherwise accepted without question, even today. For contemporary contrast, see Michael Douglas in "Falling Down."
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on April 13, 2002
Very intriguing, multi-layered drama starring Gregory Peck as a simple man trying to deal with life's problems. Stellar cast features three of my favorites---Peck, Lee J. Cobb, and Fredric March. How can you go wrong with names like these?!
A tad on the lengthy side (at slightly more than 2-and-a-half hours), but worth the excursion.
Mr. March is a standout here (IMO), as the head of a major TV network which employs Peck. March's role here puts me in mind of a similar character he portrayed two years earlier in "Executive Suite". He is much more likable, however, in this film.
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on June 18, 2015
Just as I ordered it.
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on June 16, 2003
From outside the USA this film is rare. Isn't perhaps between the best, but usually these country is seen as the cradle of big heroes, brave cowboys, tycoons and the in general most rich or poweful people. However here Gregory Peck plays the figure of a common man who is, and it's intended wants not only to dress a grey suit, but voluntarily wants to be a ordinary, grey man, possibly possesing the qualities to get more. Perhaps this is truly wisdom and difficult.
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on April 25, 2003
This movie showcases great acting, great writing, and a serious, yet entertaining theme. It grapples with serious issues of family,business,ethics,past mistakes, and painful memories in a truly engaging manner. Though it is deeply rooted in the post-WWII fifties, the ideas are timeless. It is at once realistic and redemptive. Watch it with someone you love-it will be a movie you'll both enjoy.
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