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The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit(1956)

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Finding it difficult to support his family on his $7,000 yearly salary, Tom Rath hopes that his late grandmother's estate will yield a financial bonanza. When Tom learns that his grandmother's funds have been depleted and consequently, his entire inheritance consists only of her white-elephant house, Tom's ambitious wife Betsy presses him to seek a higher paying job. Betsy accuses her husband of "losing his guts" since his return ten years earlier from military service during World War II. On the commuter train to work the next morning, Tom questions his friend, Bill Hawthorne, about a public relations job at the UBC television network. A man wearing a plush overcoat then triggers Tom's war memories: Tom, a captain in the U.S. Army assigned to Italy, is driven by the brutal cold of winter to murder a young German soldier for his overcoat. Upon completing his duty in Rome, Tom learns that his company is being sent to the Pacific. Filled with forebodings of death, Tom slips into a deep depression. Hoping to relieve Tom's apprehensions, Caesar Gardella, a fellow soldier, introduces him to Maria, a self-effacing young Italian girl. One night with Maria stretches into six weeks, and on the day before Tom is to leave for battle, he promises Maria that he will never forget her, even though he is married. Maria replies that she is pregnant with his baby, a child she has prayed for. Tom's thoughts return to the present, and soon after, he is summoned to a job interview at UBC. There, Tom is sequestered in a room and given one hour to write his autobiography, which must conclude with the sentence "the most significant thing about me." As Tom ruminates about his final sentence, his thoughts return to the war: While leading his troops into battle, Tom watches in horror as a grenade he lobbed blows up his best friend Hank. Tom's remembrance renders his essay trivial, and he refuses to divulge any information about himself. Upon returning home that night, Tom tells Betsy about his job interview, and she begins to dream about a new home and extended vacation. Soon after, Tom is offered a job at UBC, helping to launch a mental health campaign, the current obsession of network president Ralph Hopkins. After meeting with Tom, Hopkins proceeds to his estranged wife's home to discuss their wayward eighteen-year-old daughter Susan, who has been frequenting nightclubs with an elderly fortune hunter and a married writer. Confronting her husband, who has been an absent father, Helen begs him to intervene in their daughter's life. At the network, Tom is assigned to work under Bill Ogden, a ruthless office politician. When Tom returns from work that evening, Betsy announces that she has sold their modest home, thus forcing them to move to Tom's grandmother's stately mansion. As they prepare to move, Tom is informed by Edward Schultz, his grandmother's curmudgeonly servant, that the old woman had promised him the house. After threatening a lawsuit, Edward storms out, and Tom phones Judge Bernstein, the executor of his grandmother's estate, about mediating the situation. Later, Susan, summoned by her father, visits Hopkins at his apartment and accuses him of letting money ruin their lives. When Hopkins solicitously asks Susan to move in with him and offers to arrange a job for her, she angrily lashes out that he is incapable of loving anyone. The next day at the office, Ogden derides Tom's efforts and dismisses him from the campaign. When Tom shows Betsy Ogden's version of the speech, Betsy deems it silly and boring and dares her husband to stand by his convictions, but Tom responds that office politics necessitate telling your superiors what they want to hear. The next day, Tom and Edward meet at Bernstein's office, where the judge scrutinizes a letter purportedly written by Tom's grandmother, bequeathing Edward her house. When the judge questions Edward's integrity and accuses him of padding household bills and possibly forging the letter, Edward indignantly stalks out. Later, Tom meets Hopkins at his apartment to discuss his speech. At first Tom spinelessly agrees with his employer's opinions, but after Hopkins is called away by a phone call notifying him of Susan's elopement, Tom works up the courage to critique the speech as phony. Hopkins, shaken by the news of his daughter's rebellious marriage, confides to Tom that he reminds him of his beloved son Bobby, who died as a private in the war after refusing an officer's commission. Now regretting that he devoted his life, body and soul, to business, Hopkins urges Tom not to let anything keep him from his family. In the office elevator the next morning, Tom is approached by Caesar, now an elevator operator, to meet him after work. Over drinks, Caesar tells Tom that he is married to Maria's cousin and that Maria and her son are in desperate need of money. Taken aback, Tom's first impulse is to conceal the boy's existence from Betsy. At home that night, after telling Betsy that he criticized Ogden's speech, Tom reveals that he has an illegitimate son in Rome. Although Tom speaks about the atrocities and hopelessness of war that drove him into Maria's arms, Betsy only feels the pain of his betrayal and angrily speeds away in the family's car. The next morning, the police notify Tom that they found Betsy parked along a roadside, where her car ran out of gas. As Tom prepares to pick up Betsy, Hopkins phones to ask him to accompany him to California in Ogden's stead. When Tom declines the offer, stating that he is just a "9 to 5" fellow who prefers to stay with his family, Hopkins understands and asks to see Tom's version of the speech. After hanging up the phone, Hopkins stares out into space, totally alone. Afterward, Tom and Betsy visit the judge, and Tom explains that he wants to send his illegitimate son in Italy $100 a month. When Betsy adds that they eventually intend to establish a trust fund for the boy, Bernstein, moved, offers his services gratis. Tom and Betsy then share a loving embrace.