There’s an exchange late in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit that sums up the movie better than I can. While discussing a speech for work Gregory Peck presses Jennifer Jones for her opinion on it, and she dubs it a bit boring. Peck responds, “Is that all, just boring?” Jones pauses for a moment before adding, “I hate to say it darling, but I think some of it is a little silly, too.”
There are two unforgiving problems with The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit: it’s punishing long and incredibly dull. These two fatal flaws consume all of the good points, mainly Gregory Peck’s dependable moral decency, and they cannot overpower the stolid nature of the material and the unexciting direction. The story is just too thin for 153 minutes, and it’s clear that a good thirty minutes (or more) needed to be exercised from the finished product.
The story concerns the post-war social and economic anxieties of a thirtysomething couple garnished with unnecessarily long flashbacks to his time in combat, an Italian love affair, and the family dynamics of his boss, a reliably soulful Fredric March. All of this means there’s alternately too much going and that none of it is cooked all the way through. The film doesn’t given us enough reasons to care, unlike the same year’s similarly themed Bigger Than Life, Nicholas Ray’s masterpiece of class consciousness tearing a family apart by driving the patriarch towards mania.
A better director, like Ray, would have helped, but so would better performances from Jennifer Jones and Marisa Pavan. Pavan is merely wooden in her sections, giving the type of artificial performance that has aged poorly from 50s cinema, while Jones is actively terrible. Jones is emotionally catatonic except for her mouth and eyebrows that twitch and move around persistently, as if they were giving the performance on their own.
Pavan’s performance is another nice encapsulation of the film’s problems, it feels like you popped open the Tupperware that’s been hidden in the back of the fridge and found a moldy mess. Perhaps this played better during the era, but time has not been kind to it. Much like the title’s character description, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is just too nondescript and didactic for its own good or any enjoyment.