Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Man in the White Suit

It's rare one film serves as a double feature on its own.

But watch the great British comedy, the man in the white suit, on two levels.

At its simplest, this 1951 film directed by Alexander Mackendrick (he also did the original version of The Ladykillers), generates plenty of laughs with its slapstick scenes and chases.

Even better, The Man in the White Suit offers a lot to think about in its 82-minute running time - especially some big questions about the behaviour of captains of industry, the working class and the interplay, and sometimes dependence, between the two.

Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness) is an idealistic lab assistant dedicated to creating a fabric that can never get dirty or destroyed. His resume includes a lot of short stints at seven garment manufacturers once all the money he's tapped, unauthorized, for research is discovered.

It's at a textile mill owned by Alan Birnley (Cecil Parker) that Stratton finally makes his landmark discovery in yet another lab he's infiltrated.

Birnley's daughter, Daphne (Joan Greenwood), sees the tremendous potential with Stratton's scientific discovery and how it will help people worldwide. When he dons a suit made with the white fabric, she tells him, "It makes you look like a knight in shining armour."

But will anyone ride to Stratton's rescue when major players, both on the shop floor and in the boardroom, find out what he's done?

Birnley himself is tremendously excited, initially, about having access to a revolutionary find that will set his business far apart from his competitors. That's until he's confronted by other garment manufacturers. They're led by the very elderly, not to mention even more imposing, Sir John Kierlaw (Ernest Thesiger).

Ardent unionist Bertha Steps (Vida Hope) has a soft spot for Stratton, but she and her fellow workers are also concerned about their jobs.

Divisions between the class lines are explored as workers watch Stratton being wooed by the well-off company owners who travel about in their Rolls-Royces. Steps lives in a roominghouse. Birnley is in a huge home.

The Man in the White Suit also explores the risk facing people who think creatively. Disdain and ridicule await. Watch for the final confrontation that initially suggests violence, but serves up, in a way, an even more painful assault.

Rating: 8/10

Fun facts: Actor Ernest Thesiger also appeared in Scrooge, as The Undertaker, and as Dr. Pretonius in Bride of Frankenstein. Vida Hope made her film debut in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39
Steps. She appeared uncredited as an usherette. Director Alexander Mackendrick was American. His directing career only ran from 1949 to 1967. Joan Greenwood was uncredited as The Great Tyrant in Barbarella.

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