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Man in the White Suit, The (1951, Alec Guinness, Michael Gough)

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Sir Alec Guinness plays Sidney Stratton in this delightfully wicked satire of British industry. Stratton is a textile laboratory drone whose life is lacking excitement until he hits upon a winning formula, in the form of a fibre that will neither take dirt, nor wear out. The perfect formula yes – but one that brushes both management and unions up the wrong way, as they realise it will soon put them out of business. Sidney is denounced as a menace, and the invention proves flawed: but in indomitable Ealing spirit, he is determined to begin again.

Alexander Mackendrick, responsible for three other splendid Ealing comedies – Whisky Galore!, The Maggie and The Ladykillers – has managed to create here Ealing’s most pertinent and most haunting satire, a comedy as dreamlike and cutting as anything by the French master René Clair ; and the superb script was nominated for an Oscar.

No other British movie, not even the Boulting Brothers’ I’m All Right, Jack , got so far under the skin of the unspoken conspiracy between the two sides of British industry. Guinness is brilliantly understated as the unworldly scientist, Joan Greenwood adorable as the privileged girl pretending to be seduced by technical lingo, and that old gargoyle Ernest Thesiger gives his best turn as a decrepit industrialist summoned in vain to frighten stalwart Sidney.

production details
UK / Ealing / 85 minutes / 1951

Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Writers: Roger MacDougall, John Dighton, Alexander Mackendrick, from MacDougall’s play,

cast
Alec Guinness as Sidney Stratton
Michael Gough as Michael Corland
Charles Saynor as Pete
Ernest Thesiger as Sir John Kierlaw
Harold Goodwin as Wilkins
Vida Hope as Bertha
Brian Worth as King
George Benson as The Lodger
Frank Atkinson as The Baker
Ewan Roberts as Fotheringay
John Rudling as Wilson
Jack Howarth as Receptionist at Corland Mill
Joan Greenwood as Daphne Birnley
Henry Mollison as Hoskins
Duncan Lamont as Harry
Joan Harben as Miss Johnson
Arthur Howard as Roberts
Roddy Hughes as Green
Stuart Latham as Harrison
Edie Martin as Mrs. Watson
Mandy Miller as Gladdie
Charlotte Mitchell as Mill Girl
Olaf Olsen as Knudsen
Desmond Roberts as Mannering
Charles Cullum as 1st Company Director
F.B.J. Sharp as 2nd Company Director
Scott Harrold as Express Reporter
Jack McNaughton as Taxi Driver
Judith Furse as Nurse Gamage
Billy Russell as Nightwatchman
Russell Waters as Davidson
Patric Doonan as Frank
Cecil Parker as Alan Birnley
Colin Gordon as Hill
Howard Marion-Crawford as Cranford
Miles Malleson as The Tailor

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