Eccentric Sidney Stratton (Alec Guiness) is a laboratory cleaner in a textile factory, who invents a material that will neither wear out nor become dirty. Initially hailed as a great discovery, Sidney's astonishing invention is suffocated by the management when they realise that if it never wears out, people will only ever have to purchase one suit of clothing.
Ealing Comedy--cosy, gentle and whimsical, right? In this case, think again. Alexander Mackendrick was always the most politically aware of the Ealing directors, and in The Man in the White Suit
he takes the studio's favourite theme of the little man up against the system and gives it a sharp satirical twist. Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness at his most unworldly), a maverick scientist working in a Northern textile mill, invents a fabric that never gets dirty and never wears out. He's hailed as a genius--until management and unions alike realise what his brainwave implies.
Mackendrick's humour is exact and pointed, and the satire turns savage as a lynch mob of bosses and workers hunt Sidney down through dark narrow streets. Mackendrick's disenchanted view of hidebound, class-ridden British society still rings horribly true, and he draws note-perfect performances from the cream of British character actors: Cecil Parker as the liberal mill-owner (based it's said, on Ealing boss Michael Balcon); Ernest Thesiger as the evil old godfather of the industry; and, wittily sensual as Sidney's confidante, the ever-wonderful Joan Greenwood. Plus, listen out for the "voice" of Sidney's bizarre apparatus, the funniest and most unforgettable sound effect ever devised. --Philip Kemp