Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit Revisited

I'm calling today's entry "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit Revisited" rather than "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit", since I *wrote briefly* about this film six years ago and had titled the entry "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit".

I could have titled today's entry "The Man in The Gray Flannel Suit" too. Who's to stop me? It might have been cool to title it the same, but I'm just not cool. I'm a meat-and-potatoes kind of fellow, and so the opposite of cool. As a meat-and-potatoes kind of fellow, what else could I have called today's entry, but "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit Revisited".

Anyway, I watched "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit" again, last night on YouTube, and enjoyed it as I had those six years ago. I'm drawn to it because I still clearly remember the times when the film was made, and which it reflects. Those times are seeming to me more and more quaint as the years pass, for I feel more and more lost amid today's kaleidoscopic technological and cultural changes. I'm an old man who more and more finds comfort in *living in the past*.

In the times of "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit" anyone, for all intents and purposes, could get a full-time job. An average man like Tom Rath (Gregory Peck) could just be a nine-to-five man and still earn enough to own a nice house in the suburbs and support a wife and three children, who he had lots of time to dote on because, well, he only worked nine-to-five. Of course if he wanted to make it into the Big Time and become a millionaire, he would have to eat and sleep his job twenty-four hours a day, like his Big Boss, Ralph Hopkins (Frederic March).

Ralph Hopkins was a millionaire because he had chosen not to be a nine-to-five man, but a twenty-four-hour a day man. This, however, had come at a cost of the loss of love from his wife and daughter, both of whom couldn't stand him and moved out, leaving Ralph to enjoy his millions in splendid loneliness.

Being just a nine-to-five man with a safe but unexciting job, had its cost for Tom Rath too, for his wife, Betsy (Jennifer Jones) was finding him boring. What, she whined, had happened to the Tom she had first met, who had been exciting and a risk-taker, and not the cautious nine-to-five man he had since become?

It had to do with the War. Tom had been a Captain, and had killed seventeen of the Enemy bare-handed. The brutality of his experiences had done something to his risk-taking spirit after he came home. He turned into a cautious and safe and uxorious, but no longer exciting, nine-to-five-man.

A thing about the times of "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit", is that all the men of Tom's generation had fought in the War - an experience that bound them together. It was, for instance, what bound together the former officer, Tom, and his former sergeant, Caesar Gardella (Keenan Wynn), who was a humble elevator operator in the skyscraper where Tom worked at his well-paid nine-to-five white-collar job.

***

For what it's worth, my own father and uncles were of Tom Rath's generation. They, too, had been in the War - in their case in North Africa where, in the 8th Army under Monty, and enveloped in howling opaque sandstorms, driven mad by phalanxes of buzzing flies, and fried by the laser-like desert sun, they helped "....hit Rommel for six out of Africa....", then were shipped to Italy.

Hearing them talk of all this is part of my childhood memories. Even as very old men they would still talk of their experiences in the War as young men as if it were yesterday. I watched their old eyes light up as they talked.

***

In the 1950's - the time of "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit" - a man could be just a nine-to-five man and live a materially comfortable life with secure life-long employment. Today, however, you have to be an eight-to-six man, or a seven-to-six man, or perhaps a twenty-four-hour a day man, to be materially comfortable. But, you are more likely to have no job at all, or have only a ten-to-two part-time job, for there is no longer full employment.

After inflation, the per-capita wealth of the society of Tom Rath's time, was less than half what it is today. The gap between rich and poor then, wasn't nearly what it is today, so that the average man then, lived materially relatively better than today, despite that the total wealth today is more than twice what it was then.

You might do worse than think of all this of as you vicariously enter the 1950's while watching "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit" - a film I highly recommend.

To watch it, *click here.*

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