Kino Lorber brings the Ealing Comedies stateside
We live in a disposable culture. When something breaks, you buy a new one. This is exacerbated by the sense that everything has a shelf-life now too. Is it a coincidence your iPhone starts to act up every time a new one comes out? Imagine how any industry would react to the idea of a product that would never need replacing. Buy it once and done. That’s the basic premise of The Man in the White Suit, a stellar showcase for the talents of Alec Guinness as a man who invents a fabric that will never wear out, wrinkle, or get dirty, and gets a target slapped on his back as a result.
In this definitive Ealing comedy, Sir Alec Guinness (The Lavender Hill Mob) delivers one of his most beloved performances as Sidney Stratton, an eccentric chemist who one day invents a fiber that never wrinkles, wears out or gets dirty. But when the mill owners and workers both realize that this miracle fabric will destroy their industry, Sidney suddenly becomes the most hunted man in the nation. Can a young idealist trapped between big business and mad unions find safety in science, or will the future of Britain become unraveled by one extraordinary suit?
What happens to the supply-and-demand system if there’s no demand? What lengths would corporations go to if their existence was threatened, in this case by Sidney Stratton (Guinness), a mild-mannered chemist who secretly uses the resources of his company to realize his invention, a fabric that never tears or stains? Initially he is praised for his world-changing creation, but then various groups start to realize the threat he poses to their profit margins or livelihoods. It’s an entertaining premise that offers opportunity to look at consumerism, class structure, and capitalism.
Director Alexander Mackendrick (The Ladykillers, Sweet Smell of Success), who also penned the screenplay along with John Dighton and Roger MacDougall (picking up an Oscar nomination in the process), delivers another standout feature to come out of the renowned Ealing Studios. Charming characters, irreverent wit, and physical comedy are all wrapped around a story that is rich with opportunity. The entire film rests on the shoulders of Alec Guinness, and he once again excels. There are scores of people who only know him as Obi-Wan and have no idea of the breadth of his talent. Stratton is a softer, more nuanced character than some of his grander Ealing creations, but no less memorable for it.
The film brings an interesting insight into London, shifting from the post-War era into a more modern age. There’s a critique of automation and mass production, the growth of faceless corporations over local firms, and how people are more beholden to them. Stratton himself is only able to realize his invention by using the resources of the company he works for. He’s a man of science fixated on his work and legacy; the result is an upending of the natural order. What at first seems to be a solution to so many problems ends up causing countless more, threatening the rich factory owners as well as the blue collar workers working for them. There is no silver bullet to our problems, not when the system is so rigged against the common man in the first place, or when we are all so set on looking to our own futures.
The Man in the White Suit is sourced by Kino Lorber from a 2K scan and restoration in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Detail, sharpness, contrast, depth, grain levels, are all good to excellent. There are some brighter scenes that look to lose a little definition, and some evidence of dirt or other minor blemishes, but nothing too egregious.
- Revisiting The Man in the White Suit: A featurette that brings together director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity), film historian Ian Christie, and British film historian Richard Dacre to breakdown the film, with attention also paid to it’s director Alexander Mackendrick. A nice addition, but a little short in length.
- Audio Commentary: Recorded with film historian Dr. Dean Brandum, who puts a (welcome) personal spin onto proceedings, while breaking down various technical and historical aspects of the production, and Ealing output in general. A solid commentary.
- Trailer: Original trailer for The Man in the White Suit
- Additional Trailers: For Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender HIll Mob, and The Captain’s Paradise
The Bottom Line
There’s a fascinating concept at the heart of The Man in the White Suit, one that resonates today, nearly 70 years after its original release. It’s a warning for a society so entwined with consumerism and capitalism, and of the delicate balance between capitalism and the workers who make it possible. Kino Lorber delivers not just a splendid release showcasing the kind of output from the Ealing Studio in its heyday, but also a celebration of the wonderful talents of Alec Guinness.
The Man in the White Suit is available via Kino Lorber Sept 3rd, 2019.