Man in the White Suit, The (1952): Mackendrick Comedy with Shining Alec Guinness

Alec Guinness plays one of his best known roles in The Man in the White Suit, an Ealing satirical comedy about an amateur scientist whose latest invention creates uproar in the British textile industry.

The Oscar-nominated comedy (in the writing category) is directed with wit and panache by Alexander Mackendrick, who is best known for his 1957 noir classic, Sweet Smell of Success, starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

In the manufacturing country of Northern England, factory owner Michael Corland (Michael Gough) is showing competitor Alan Bimley (Cecil Parker) around his plant, hoping to borrow some money and marry off his daughter Daphne (Joan Greenwood).

They come upon a curious contraption that turns out to be an experiment by employee Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness). Of lower class origins, Sidney is fired from his job.

Sidney ends up working at Bimley’s factory, where he is befriended by militant worker Bertha (Vida Hope). Daphne spots Sidney at the factory and he explains to her the results of his experiment, an indestructible fabric, impervious to dirt. Bimley discovers this project and throws Sidney out.

But Daphne, impressed by his experiments, funds Sidney in his own laboratory, where Sidney develops a pure white material that can’t be dirtied or ruined.

But, alas, Sidney’s invention is too brilliant: if such material is marketed, textile mills will go out of business and workers will lose their jobs. As a result, Sidney is hated by both management and labor, which join forces to defeat his invention.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Screenplay: Roger MacDougall, John Dighton, Alexander Mackendrick

 

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner was Charles Schnee for Minnelli’s melodrama, The Bad and the Beautiful.

 

Credits

Running time: 82 minutes.

Written by Roger MacDougall

Released: March 31, 1951

DVD: September 10, 2002

Universal Pictures