The Man in the White Suit
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick
Produced by Michael Balcon
Written by John Dighton
Starring Alec Guinness
Music by Benjamin Frankel
Cinematography Douglas Slocombe
Edited by Bernard Gribble
Distributed by GFD
Country United Kingdom
The Man In The White Suit is a 1951 satirical comedy film made by Ealing Studios. It starred Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood and Cecil Parker and was directed by Alexander Mackendrick. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing (Screenplay) for Roger MacDougall, John Dighton and Alexander Mackendrick (who was a cousin of Roger MacDougall).
It followed a common Ealing Studios theme of the "common man" against the Establishment. In this instance the hero falls foul of both trade unions and the wealthy mill owners who attempt to suppress his invention.
Sidney Stratton, a brilliant young research chemist and former Cambridge scholarship recipient, has been dismissed from jobs at several textile mills in the north of England because of his demands for expensive facilities and his obsession with inventing an everlasting fibre. Whilst working as a labourer at the Birnley mill, he accidentally becomes an unpaid researcher and invents an incredibly strong fibre which repels dirt and never wears out. From this fabric, a suit is made—which is brilliant white because it cannot absorb dye and slightly luminous because it includes radioactive elements.
Stratton is lauded as a genius until both management and the trade unions realise the consequence of his invention; once consumers have purchased enough cloth, demand will drop precipitously and put the textile industry out of business. The managers try to trick and bribe Stratton into signing away the rights to his invention but he refuses. Managers and workers each try to shut him away, but he escapes.
The climax sees Stratton running through the streets at night in his glowing white suit, pursued by both the managers and the employees. As the crowd advances, his suit begins to fall apart as the chemical structure of the fibre breaks down with time. The mob, realising the flaw in the process, rip pieces off his suit in triumph, until he is left standing in his underwear. Only Daphne Birnley, the mill-owner's daughter, and Bertha, a works labourer, have sympathy for his disappointment.
The next day, Stratton is dismissed from his job. Departing, he consults his chemistry notes. A realisation hits and he exclaims, "I see!" With that he strides off, perhaps to try again elsewhere.
Alec Guinness as Sidney Stratton
Joan Greenwood as Daphne Birnley
Cecil Parker as Alan Birnley
Michael Gough as Michael Corland
Ernest Thesiger as Sir John Kierlaw
Howard Marion-Crawford as Cranford
Henry Mollison as Hoskins
Vida Hope as Bertha
Patric Doonan as Frank
Duncan Lamont as Harry
Harold Goodwin as Wilkins
Colin Gordon as Hill
Joan Harben as Miss Johnson
Arthur Howard as Roberts
Roddy Hughes as Green
Stuart Latham as Harrison
Miles Malleson as The Tailor
Edie Martin as Mrs. Watson
Mandy Miller as Gladdie
Charlotte Mitchell as Mill Girl
Olaf Olsen as Knudsen
Desmond Roberts as Mannering
Ewan Roberts as Fotheringay
John Rudling as Wilson
Charles Saynor as Pete
Russell Waters as Davidson
Brian Worth as King
George Benson as The Lodger
Frank Atkinson as The Baker
Charles Cullum as 1st Company Director
F.B.J. Sharp as 2nd Company Director
Scott Harold as Express Reporter
Jack Howarth as Receptionist at Corland Mill
Jack McNaughton as Taxi Driver
Judith Furse as Nurse Gamage
Billy Russell as Nightwatchman
The film was one of the most popular movies of the year in Britain.