Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Man in The Gray Flannel Suit

It took me some time but I finally watched this movie (thanks to Mark from Upon Hope for the recommendation). I actually had to watch it two times before I was able to more or less determine my attitude to the characters depicted in the story.

It's a movie which is rather difficult to review without spoilers, so be warned:) The main character Tom Rath, played by Gregory Peck works at a dead-end job which barely allows him to support his family at a middle class standard and has three children and a nagging wife called Betsy. He served in the army during  WWII and is unable to forget the things he went through, including an affair with an Italian woman he picked up in Rome.

His wife's demands finally push him to apply for a better-paid job at a major corporate network but as he tries to adjust to his new working environment he must face some ethical and moral issues, which present a challenge to him. There is not much "action" in the movie, but it is a powerful drama with some good acting, which could be recommended to anyone interested in the mid-20th century American way of life. 

When I first watched the film I was very much annoyed with his wife's behaviour until the last ten minutes or so. She came across as an ungrateful woman who couldn't appreciate her husband's hard work or sympathise with him and his problems, and constantly wanted more. However, after I watched it again I started understanding her better. The movie is an adaptation of a novel which possibly provided more details, but as far as I could get it, both Tom and his wife came from an affluent background (judging by the house he inherited from his Grandma) and then it makes sense that  Betsy expected him to do better.

Tom's problems seemed  to have come from the fact that he was inherently a decent man. Someone else probably wouldn't be half bothered by the fact that he had to lie to his wife or kill men during the war and certainly wouldn't be worried about the possibility of having a child with a woman who was basically a prostitute.

While being a decent man with a conscience is certainly a positive trait, on the other hand, Tom was too much of what they call nowadays a "beta provider." He allowed his wife to nag and push him around. He hesitated to confront his colleagues and wouldn't take action to confront his Grandma's servant who basically robbed him of half his inheritance until forced to (by his wife, no less). Heck, even his children disrespected him. In the end, he found courage to face his personal demons  risking something which was very important to him - his family, in the process, which was shown as a positive development in the movie.

There is another, minor plot line about his new boss Ralph Hopkins, the network owner, and his family problems, which perfectly illustrates that (some) women are never happy, as my husband informed me:) They complain when the husband brings too little money, but they are also unhappy when he spends his whole time at work. (BTW, Susan, the daughter, was a spoiled brat who deserved to be disinherited).

The movie is true to life in depicting two basic types of men: "the 9 to 5" guys who lack ambition and go back to their family, and those who like Hopkins are driven by their ambition to reach the top of the ladder, whether in business or in politics. In the times past, wives were taught to accept it as the benefits of being married to such a man outweighed the drawbacks. However, as the film shows, mid-20th century wives were rebelling against this arrangement, which probably contributed to the success of the second wave feminism.

It's interesting that Helen Andelin addresses the very same problem in "Fascinating Womanhood" (Bantam Books, 1992, p.96): "It is not always possible or even right for a man to make his wife number one in his life...In addition to making the living, men have always shouldered the responsibility of making the world a better place.They have largely been the builders of society, have solved world problems, and developed new ideas for the benefit of all...If you examine the life of these noble public servants, you usually find a wife...content to take a second place. President and Mrs Dwight D. Eisenhower are a good example of this. Mrs Eisenhower recalls that...her husband drew her aside one evening and said, `...My country comes first, and you second`...and that is the way they lived."

I think the idea behind the story was that you can´t live with lies with which I agree wholeheartedly and also that family is more important than all other things (with which I agree but partly, see above.) Anyway, it was a great movie, and I can recommend it to everyone. 

Watch The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit on YouTube:

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