The Man in the White Suit Reviews
Actually, I might well have done this as a tribute movie, had I gotten it last month. As is often the case in older movies, one of the people in it looked vaguely familiar. Fortunately, I always look at IMDB while I'm working on reviews anyway, and so I discovered that Michael Corland, one of the many executives running about the place, was in fact played by Michael Gough. He was one of two people to appear in all four of the Burton-Schumacher [i]Batman[/i] movies, wherein he played Alfred. In fact, he retired from acting long since, but the only thing which appears certain to have prevented him from being willing to come out of retirement again to work with Tim Burton again is that he died last month at the age of ninety-four. He was never really a leading man type, but he was a fine character actor and quite good at playing Wise Old Men for Tim Burton.
He isn't the leading man here, either. That's Sidney Stratton, played by Sir Alec Guinness. Sidney is a chemist whose interest lies in the field of polymers. However, he's your standard movie scientists, which means he is unable to explain to much of anyone what he's really doing. He gets a job working in a textile mill so he can sneak into the lab and use the equipment after he gets fired from the lab of a different textile mill. Finally, he creates the ultimate polymer. It is so durable that you actually have to burn it apart; it changes structure at a temperature of over three hundred degrees. It repels dirt; he gets a smudge of oil on the eponymous suit and removes it with a wipe and an obvious cut. The suit is indestructible and doesn't get dirty. Oh, they haven't worked out how to produce any colour but white, but he can work on that. Only management and labour alike figure they're about to be put out of a job, because no one will ever need to buy clothes again!
Frankly, the only person I figure has a right to be concerned is the little old lady who takes in washing. Everyone else goes crazy, because people will only buy one more wardrobe, out of the new fabric, and never buy clothes again. Never have to. Except people don't work like that. People don't want to wear the same clothing for the rest of their lives. Oh, and of course the population's going up, so there will always be new people to buy the material. And even though they say they will be able to fiddle with the weave so it duplicates cotton, wool, and silk, people still buy silk even though there are cheaper man-made alternatives. The Real Thing has a certain appeal. Fashion will continue to change, so people will need different clothes as hemlines and lapels change shape over and over again. Really, I found myself hoping the stuff recycles, because that's a heck of a pile of indestructible clothes after a while. Though I suppose it could be reused for a whole range of industrial purposes.
But of course you're not supposed to think about these things. Sidney, because he is not considering consequences, is going to destroy an entire industry. That's what you're supposed to think about. It's a satire based on the idea of the pure scientist who needs to get out of the lab more often. He is unworldly, and he needs looking after. Doubtless he will end up with Daphne Birnley (Joan Greenwood) doing just that. Hopefully, she'll stop him before he destroys an industry again. Not that he does this time, of course, but through no fault of his own. There's a safety net built in so such people don't exceed their reach. Something always goes wrong. However, those wacky fellows will keep trying until they succeed, and someone needs to keep an eye on them so they don't. Honestly, I find the intended message a little distasteful. You Can't Trust Science. It only works, though, if you assume every scientist is as unmindful of consequences as Sidney, and remember all the other scientists think he's crazy, too.
Still, the movie is entertaining enough to spend an afternoon on. Sir Alec Guinness jaunts about doing his Sir Alec Guinness thing. The suit doesn't get put on until about the last twenty minutes, after which he spends most of the movie shut up in one room or another by people trying to prevent him from publishing his secret. Really, Sidney's biggest flaw does seem to be that he can't explain himself to anyone. Daphne has the good sense to haul out the [i]Encyclopaedia Britannica[/i] to look up everything he told her, having smiled and nodded through an earlier conversation. He ends up surrounded by union mill hands in part because it makes things wackier, I think, and because it then lets us see that They Aren't So Different After All. The conflict between Daphne and Bertha (Vida Hope) which I was anticipating never did come, which is just as well for both. He'd never have noticed what was going on anyway.
Guinness is a quirky lab rat who invents an eternal and stainproof fabric. Well actually he gurgles test tubes and explodes his labs for the first 45 minutes of the film UNTIL he invents it. The other 45 minutes of the film is devoted to milking the notion that now the fabric industry will have nothing to sell ... and that labor will have nothing to make. Everyone ends up chasing Guinness down dark alleys trying to shut him and his invention down. Then the product fails and all is well with the world again. Fin.
Again, to a 1951 audience, the notion that true product innovation might be at odds with the progress of capitalism and society was probably a titillating intellectual exercise. But since then of course the entire world has experienced an explosion of technological innovation ... and capitalism hasn't suffered much from it ... and job creations and losses aren't absolutely tied to it either.
As outstanding an actor as Guinness is, one might suspect that the film could hold attention just with him in it. Not the case. This is a pretty dry and unengaging delivery, actually, and any number of actors could have done as well. Which is "not well enough."
RECOMMENDATION: Not as much managerial insight here as I would have hoped. Most viewers can easily take a pass without regret.
The Man in the White Suit is an Ealing studios comedy made in 1951, and what a little gem this could be. The film has it's humour, good acting and just a little old fun for all involved, although it isn't exactly perfect all together. It has fine acting lead by a true legend of British cinema and is written and directed well, no wonder it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing. Yes The Man in the White Suit is a funny old tale, and one that needs more explaining.
The true star of this movie is Alec Guinness, an absolute fine actor and although maybe or maybe not performing at his best here, I think all who have seen this must be in agreement, he does very well. In fact with this, the entire cast do well. I especially liked Cecil Parker in his role as mill owner Alan Birnley who although unlike able as a character, seems to make the scenes better off with him in. The actor playing Birnley's daughter Daphne is also good and a great speech she does in one certain point is very well done indeed, a great cast put together well.
The movie is smart and funny, now I have seen people saying about it not being funny and to be fair you can't expect laugh out loud humour. For one this is 1951 we have here but also it is more about the fun factor than the tears from laughter, but on that note there is humour, and a certain part with blowing up rooms is fairly funny. The film is directed well by Alexander Mackendrick who does a good job but Is over shadowed by the great script which I will come onto next.
Now then, this script, written by well the director too so in truth Mackendrick does a fine job with everything he has here and with contributions by John Dighton and Roger MacDougall it all comes together to create brilliance. The lines are well done and that is why they fit well into the pace of the film, I won't lie my attention faded at slight times but the script is what really brought me back into attention and it paid off too.
The overtones of this movie are also very important, this really was about the workers fighting the owners but also that both want to ruin Stratton's (Guinness) idea of the material. I think it also shows that although this is humour and not serious, it can have a more thought about side and again I come back to the script which basically serves as the base for this well done and well structured film. It also shows just how well Ealing studios can do a movie and I think this really set the precedent for Ealing made movies to be about the establishment fighting against the little guy.
This isn't flawless this movie I want to just add, it isn't so so far but the lack of laughs does mean as I mentioned, attention can be lost at times. I found it to be just about good and I think many will enjoy it no matter what age and no matter what tastes in film, if you listen well and watch in a rather happy mood then this is good viewing. This is good old British cinema and at it's finest back in the day, with so much going on here and a rather interesting plot despite the premise, this serves as a reminder never to underestimate films of the past.