Monday, November 26, 2018

The Man in the White Suit

Man in the White Suit(1951)
Directed by
Alexander Mackendric
Written by Roger Macdougall, John Dighton, & Alexander Mackendrick
Starring Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker, Michael Gough, Ernest Thesiger
IMDB Entry

After World War II, a small English film studio started making a name for itself with small, quirky comedies, with offbeat characters and whimsical concept.  Ealing Studios produced only a handful of films, but a whole bunch of gems, many of which starred Alec Guinness, their biggest star.* And one of the most interesting of them was the science fiction comedy, The Man in the White Suit.

Sidney Stratton (Guinness) is a brilliant research chemist who is obsessed with finding a miracle fiber that never wears out or gets dirty. After years of failure (and explosions), he succeeds:  his creates a fabric that’s even better than he hoped and makes a white suit about it.**  He thinks he’s on the way to strike it rich.

But, though lauded at first, people begin to see the ramifications of the suit. If fabric doesn’t wear out, no one will buy new suits.  If it doesn’t need cleaning, laundries would be a thing of the past. Both plant management and trade unions realized it could be the end of their business, so both try to keep the fabric from being made.  Stratton, of course, is a scientific idealist, who refuses to see the drawbacks of his invention.


Guinness, of course, is great.  That’s a given.  People tend to forget just how much a gift for comedy he had, given that his best known roles were serious ones, but in the early 50s, he was England’s greatest comic actor, using his versatility to take on roles that were all different from each other.

Joan Greenwood is not well known today. She primarily appeared in English actress, often with Ealing, known for her low voice and great dignity. Primarily a stage actress, she had a long career.

When I first saw it, I was delighted to see Ernest Thesiger, who’s best known as Dr. Pretorius in Bride of Frankenstein.

The movie was a big success, being one of the most popular films of the year in the UK and got an Oscar nomination for the screenplay.

The Ealing Studios continued on until 1958.  And The Man in the White Suit is one of their many highlights.

*Guinness didn’t really care much for his role in Star Wars and probably would be preferred to be remembered for his stage work and his films from Ealing.

**Since the fabric repels dirt, it can only be white, though Stratton says you could dye it early in the process and it would stick.  It also glows in the dark.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Worldly Adventures of a Teenage Tycoon (Book)

By Roger W. Eddy

Back in the day, there was a small subgenre of books where people reminisced about their childhood, replete with humorous stories. Cheaper by the Dozen is probably the best known and there were others that were often seen as fodder for what would now be called YA books. I read several, but the one that sticks in my mind was Roger W. Eddy’s The Worldly Adventures of a Teenage Tycoon.

The book was abridged from a longer work, The Bulls and the Bees. Evidently, the adult version had some passages about how Roger learned about sex from the animals in the farm where he lived.  This was obviously unsuited for teens in the 1950s, but the rest made some good reading.

It was filled with anecdotes. Roger’s father was a stockbroker in the 1920s in addition to living on the farm.  The one that sticks in my mind was the one that gave the book its name.

Roger developed a liking for stocks.  Not as investments, but for the stock certificates themselves.*

And, indeed, there is much to like. Certificates were intricately engraved, much like currency, and featured elaborate artwork representing Progress and the company’s mission. Roger would pore over them, admiring the mottos and art. So he began buying them.

He had $1 a month to spend, so would pick out stocks that fit in that budget for his father to buy.**  Over the years, he had papered his bedroom with them.

Then came the stock market crash.  Roger describes the scene that night as his father came into his room and started ripping his beautiful certificates off the walls and into shreds, bemoaning the fact that they were worthless.  Roger knew better than to stop him, but couldn’t understand what was going on.  Didn’t they look as good as they ever did?***

The book was a nice, ironic look at growing up in the 1920s, that doesn’t sentimentalize the era.

*Today the hobby is called scripophily.

**Probably commission free.

***As an aside, if you find an old stock certificate, don’t throw it out.  It may be worth something to collectors. And it may actually still be worth cash: the company may have been swallowed up in a merger (or several) and it descendant company could still be around. The certificates don’t expire, so long as any portion of the original company exists, you can cash it it. When I worked at a brokerage, we had one person whose job it was to track these down and figure out what they were worth. It gets complex to calculate the value with all the various splits and mergers over the years.

Sunday, November 11, 2018


Directed by
Rudolph Maté
Written by Russell Rouse and Clarence Green
Starring Edmond O’Brien. Pamela Britton, Luthor Adler, Bevery Garland
IMDB Entry 

From the start, D.O.A.hooks the audience with one of the most memorable opening sequences in film. We see a man striding purposely into a police station as the credits roll. He asks directions and walks down a long hallway and into the office.  It’s homicide and the man (who we’ve only seen from the back) says he wants to report a murder.  The chief detective asks the obvious question:  “Who was murdered?”  The camera then shows Frank Bigelow’s (Edmond O’Brien) face for the first time.  His answer:  “I was.”

The rest of the movie lives up to that hook. Bigelow is an accountant and notary public, with a simple life in a small town until he goes on vacation in San Francisco.  When in a nightclub, someone switches his drink and the next morning feeling ill, he calls a doctor.  He’s been poisoned and there is no antidote, so Bigelow had to sold the mystery of who poisoned him before he dies. It takes him to the dark underside of the city.

The setup is irresistible, a hook that keeps you going as Bigelow slowly stumble onto the truth.  It’s all O’Brien’s show, and the actor manages to mix despair with determination. 

Director Rudolph Maté was already a well-respected cinematographer when he made the switch to directing and D.O.A.  was his third attempt.  It is assured and suspenseful and is probably his best-known film, especially because it lost copyright and can be found online.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Profiles in Courage (TV)

Profiles in Courage(1964-65)
Based on the book by
John F. Kennedy
Produced by Gordon Oliver

By 1964, anthology series were slowly dying out, but that didn’t keep people from trying. And given the popularity of John F. Kennedy after his death, it seemed a natural to dramatize his Pulitzer Prize winning history, Profiles in Courage.*

The show dramatized the events in the book, but since there were only eight originally, other politicians were added. Various well-known actors (both at the time and subsequently) were cast, including Brian Keith, Walter Matthau, David McCallum, Wendy Hiller, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, Bradford Dillman, Caroll O’Connor, Whit Bissell, and many more.

Each episode dramatized a politician who made an unpopular decision because it was the right thing to do, even though it risked their career.

I ate it up.  I was already interested in politics and had read the book and the idea of seeing it on the small screen got me hooked.  The stories were well written and well chosen and the show ended up winning a Peabody Award. 

Alas, not everyone was as much into history as I was as a kid and the ratings weren’t there.  The show only ran one season before being canceled.

However, these days, things like this aren’t lost. A few episodes can be found on Youtube and  Give it a look.

Thanks to Joseph Harder for the suggestion (a very long time ago).


*I’m not going to go into the authorship controversy.