The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is an effective drama that addresses some big issues on a very limited scale. The insularity of the present day portion of the story is oppressive, staid and often gives the film the feeling of being a stage play. The only time the film breaks out of this clautrophobic feel is when the main character, played by Gregory Peck, flashes back to his experiences in the war. During his flashbacks, the film opens up to include at least part of the rest of the world and points to the characters as being part of something larger than their daily dramas. These shifts in tone highlight the startling contrast between the noise and fire of his life 10 years prior and the quiet, seemingly hermetic existence he is expected to maintain in the present as a career/family man in 1950s America.
My feelings toward Gregory Peck at this point are ambivalent...he's never wowed me the way some other actors of that era have. But he does a fine job in this flick at playing a man who is so contained and yet seething with conflict, memories, guilt, and confusion inside. Jennifer Jones as his wife is kind of the weak link in the film as far as acting goes...she's a bit over the top, and her crying isn't really crying if you know what I mean. If there's one thing I hate, it's when someone is supposed to be crying, but there are no tears. She doesn't stink in the role; when she's playing frustrated, angry or flustered, she's fine. But when she's supposed to be playing hysterical, well, she doesn't quite pull it off.
One of the greatest elements of the film is the set design. OMG, it's SO 50s: African fertility statues, wood paneled walls, oddly shaped hanging lamps, sharp linear furniture in bright, futuristic colors. There's a tiny bit of awesome 50s fashion (primarily worn by Peck's boss's wayward daughter, who only appears in one scene), but only a bit and if that's what you're after, this movie doesn't quite deliver since it's primarily focused on the male characters (nicely cut gray flannel suits notwithstanding) and the Peck character's domestic life. Not very glam.
I will say that the battle scenes were striking and used to great effect. In one of them there's a barrage of incessant bombing and it just keeps going and going and the sound becomes overwhelming. It's a great indicator of not only Peck's memories of the war, but what's going on inside his calm, collected exterior now that he's back home. There was also one element in a war flashback that shocked me: what looked like full on gore, which I didn't know they could do in the 50s to the extent I saw it here. It may have been an illusion, but at one point Peck's friend gets killed by an exploding grenade. When Peck goes to his side to help the friend, the friend's innards appear to be poking out of his stomach. It was almost like an episdoe of CSI.
Ultimately, it's good drama that moves at a S.L.O.W. pace and clocks in at just over 2.5 hours. The set design is way cool 50s contemporary chic, but pleasure derived from the costume design is very limited.