I had an incredible chance to work with actor Gregory Peck who was the idol of my adolescent life in Italy…!
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is a dramatic American feature film written and directed by Nunally Johnson in 1956. Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century Fox, it is based on the novel by Sloan Wilson with music composed by the great Bernard Hermann.
Shot in Cinémascope, it follows the evolution of Tom Rath (Gregory Peck) whose married life is increasingly upset following by a new job post in advertising that alienates his wife Betsy (Jennifer Jones) and his children. Things are further complicated once Tom learns that he is father to a child by a young Italian woman he had an amorous adventure with during WW2.
All throughout, Tom faces a crucial dilemma: fully pursue his professional dream at all costs or keep his family happy by accepting less ‘glamourous’ work.
Our young beauty playing an Italian lady in a film… That happens once in a while!
Aged 23 years at the time of filming, Marisa appears only after 22 minutes in a flash-back sequence which Tom imagines while on a train on his way to work. Marisa, looking typically Italian in this one, glides with ease into the role of Maria Montagne, a young woman living with her friend Gina, a pharmacist. With all her family sadly deceased, Marisa was forced to live on the second floor of a run-down house. Fortunately, Gina, her mother and kid brother warmly welcome her in to their household.
First meeting between Marisa and Gregory, or rather Maria and Tom!
Maria and Tom meet for the first time as Tom, an American soldier, is sent to Italy to do battle. One night, while riding in a carriage, he is introduced to Maria by Gina. They take one look at each other and it is love at first sight. In that sense, yes, this is a typical Hollywood film of the 1950s.
Maria allows herself to be seduced by Tom who, despite the perils of war and his being married to Betsy, falls equally as much for her before regretting the eventual painful separation from her.
Actress Marisa, with her natural beauty and Italian charm completes a total of four scenes with actor Gregory Peck.
The first is their aforementioned introduction to each other. In that romantic horse-drawn scene, the actress reveals her fluency in Italian as her character objects to how much the driver wants to charge Tom for the ride.
Following that scene, we move to Maria’s bedroom where she has invited Tom. Their love is consummated amongst much embracing and kissing.
The third scene takes place in a Jeep as Tom learns he must soon return to his regiment. He brings her to a place of privacy where he can bid his sweet and beautiful conquest a fond but final farewell.
The fourth and most intense scene involves the sad parting of two souls that can no longer be together and one in which Maria reveals to Tom that she is having a baby and wants to keep it.
Despite its long running time, this film believably pairs Marisa Pavan with Gregory Peck. The viewer nearly ignores the adulterous nature of their passionate relationship, so profoundly realistic are the scenes between them. Our spirit is fixated on these two for at least the first quarter of the film.
Whenever I see a film in which Marisa plays, I am stunned by the sincerity of her on screen performance. I have often heard it said that we recognise a good actor not because of their popularity, looks (or even their actual performance!) but rather by how they ‘feel’ to the viewer. In other words, if the performance does not feel like ‘acting’, then it is a fine display of talent. This is very much the case with Marisa! She never overdoes it which is why, I believe, she renders characters for which we feel sympathy and compassion.
The only negative critique I have is that Marisa appears for all too little time in the film. (which has a running time of over two hours) The viewer expects to see more reappearances of the Maria character, especially towards the very end when she reveals a photo of her child.
Another reason to see this film is that the believability of her performance is further enhanced by a statement she later made about Gregory Peck: ‘‘I had an incredible chance to work with actor Gregory Peck who was the idol of my adolescent life in Italy…!’’ Indeed, when she was 15, Marisa was completely in love with Gregory Peck. One night, when “Duel in the sun” starring Gregory Peck opposite Jennifer Jones was playing in Italian theaters and described as a strictly 16-rated film, Marisa grabbed a pair of high heel shoes and went secretly to the movies with one of her friends.
“My parents never knew about it…!” Marisa tells me, laughing.
Marisa also felt doubly shy during the love-making scenes as Gregory Peck’s real-life wife at the time, Véronique Passani, was present during the filming of them as well as Jean-Pierre Aumont.