Directed by Alexander Mackendric
Written by Roger Macdougall, John Dighton, & Alexander Mackendrick
Starring Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker, Michael Gough, Ernest Thesiger
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.