Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Man in the White Suit

(UK, 1951)

The Man in the White Suit (1951) Another of the classic Ealing comedies, once more starring Alec Guinness. This one has more of a political message than any of the others I’ve seen. Sidney Stratton is an eccentric, obsessed chemist who invents a fabric that is pretty much indestructible, and never gets dirty. At first a mill owner is eager to produce this stuff and get it on the market. But when other industrialists get wind of it, they point out that there won’t be much need for cloth if one suit will last a lifetime. The unions aren’t happy, either. Well, who would be, it they thought they were about to lose a job? So in the end Sidney has no allies. I won’t reveal the ending, but we know from the opening narration that the miracle cloth never came to market. This is not one of the best of the Ealings, the message can be a little heavy-handed. As always, Guinness is superb, and so is Joan Greenwood, who I fell in love with as the notorious Lady Bellaston in Tom Jones.

We’ve all heard of the razor that never needs sharpening, and the miracle pill that you can drop into a bucket of water and it turns to gasoline, both inventions bought up and suppressed by evil capitalists. Do I believe these things exist? No. Do I think that if such things were developed, Schick and GM, etc, would buy them and suppress them? No question. Revolutions are probably best developed slowly, to minimize economic dislocation. But what if buggy-whip manufacturers had managed to buy off Henry Ford, Benz, Chevrolet, and other auto experimenters? We’d be walking around in knee-deep horseshit, that’s what. Of course, some days I think we already are …