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4.5 out of 5 stars
Man in the White Suit
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2003
Format: DVD
Since there is already an excellent plot synopsis, and good reviews, I have just a few comments. In selecting acting roles, Alec Guinness clearly felt that variety was the spice of life !
"The Man in the White Suit" is a brilliant, but very eccentric scientist, and Guinness is of course terrific in the lead. As always, Cecil Parker is fine in support, and Joan Greenwood, with her breathy, seductive voice, is wonderful. As other reviewers have noted, watch for Ernest Thesiger as "Sir John"--in just a few scenes he manages to convey pure evil and greed very convincingly.
While this film has humour, it is not quite a comedy in the usual sense. Its various themes and messages ring true even today. "Planned obsolescence" is as much a part of modern manufacturing as it has ever been. The possibility of a product that never wears out and will never need to be replaced is every big business' worst nightmare, and hardly good news for labour either. This comes across in the movie, and in 2003 I don't expect that the reaction would be any different. We have been hearing about engines that run on solar power or even water for years--guess how much "big oil" is going to let that happen ? !
The movie has a number of unforgettable scenes, including the climax where Guinness is cornered by the mob of workers and capitalists, united in their fear. The ending is as upbeat as one could expect, without compromising the seriousness of the theme.
The picture quality of the DVD is fine, especially for a 52-year old film.
If you like classic movies that are aimed at your brain, as well as your funny-bone, "The Man in the White Suit" fills the bill.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2005
Format: DVD
Yet another madcap Ealing comedy starring Alec Guinness as a scientist who invents a fabric that won't soil or wear out. Realizing that such a fabric would spell ruin for the whole textile industry, the company wants Guinness to sign over the invention to them so they can suppress it. He, of course, wants it known to the whole world: it's his ticket to fame.

Quite a tug-of-war develops between Guinness and the government henchmen involving chases, bribery, kidnapping, and other lunacies. But it all comes to naught when the lasting qualities of the fabric prove to be defective. Guinness is wonderful and the script is taut and hilarious. It's a neat little black comedy on industrialism vs. the entrepeneur. From that devilish smile on Guinness's face at the end, it looks like the battle goes on. Terrific fun; definitely worth a watch.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
"Now that calm and sanity have returned to the textile industry, I find it my duty to reveal something of the true story behind the recent crisis...a story which we were happily able to keep out of the newspapers at the time."

"Why can't you scientists leave things alone? What about my bit of washing when there's no washing to do?"

The movie starts with the first quote and almost, but not quite, ends with the second. In between is one of the funniest and best-made of comedies. In post-war Britain, Sidney Stratton is a young man with a passion for chemistry and an obsession with creating his "long molecule." With this he'll be able to create a fabric that is indestructible and will never need cleaning. It will be a blessing for humanity. But Stratton keeps getting fired from his jobs, which always are at places where he can secretly set up his chemical experiments. At last, through wonderful confusions, he finds himself running a giant laboratory at Birnley Mills; he has the support of the delicious daughter (Joan Greenwood) of the owner; and he succeeds in creating his fabric. At first the mill's owner, Alan Birnley, can barely suppress his glee. His mills will turn out fabric that everyone will want. Then the workers and the other mill owners realize there's a problem. With a fabric that will never wear out and never needs cleaning...what happens to their mills and what happens to their jobs?

What happens is that labor and capital join forces to suppress Sidney's invention. The movie takes on all comers with sly dialogue, chases and kidnappings, some sharp-elbowed pokes at the self interest of both unions and management, and some fine comic acting. Through it all Alec Guinness, playing the sweet-natured and obsessed Sidney Stratton, dominates the film with a sly, gentle performance. Near the end, when the fabric is shown to have a fatal flaw and Sidney is left standing in his shorts and shirt with everyone laughing at him, the movie also is poignant. But then, at the end of the movie, we realize that we just may not have seen the last of Sidney Stratton.

The movie features a number of wonderful British actors who couldn't be touched in their era (or ours, in my opinion) for their skills in playing sophisticated comedy: Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker, Michael Gough and Ernest Thesiger. Thesiger, looking as aged and dry as a old twig, steals his scenes.

Of the comedies Guinness made in this period -- The Lavender Hill Mob, Kind Hearts and Coronets, etc -- this one is my favorite. The DVD transfer is excellent.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2008
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
The Man in the White Suit seems to me to be partially a satire on Ayn Rand's the Fountainhead. Alec Guinness plays Sidney Stratton deadpan in the role of the lone, mad scientist of the British clothing industry. Stratton is on a mission to create a new fabric that never gets dirty and never wears out. His bizarre quest gets him fired from one after another jobs as a scientist as he diverts (or as the British would say, cadges) equipment and supplies from companies to his projects. He then works as a janitor still cadging supplies and hiding his experiments until he is discovered and promoted by the daughter (Joan Greenwood) of one of the captains of industry.

After he is promoted, he is given full support for his bizarre idea. Then, another of the elements of satire is the mad scientist of the horror films of the late 40's, with suitable lights flashing, "boops....beeps" and water gurgling sound effects, and a few explosions of the works.

This leads to curiosity...what is he up to? Then, word leaks out that he is working on a cloth that never gets dirty and never wears out. At first it sounds like a good idea but soon the Schumpeterian creative destruction implications of this invention for jobs, businesses, and industries, becomes clear to the industry leaders, the unions, and the ordinary workers. Then, another object of satire in this movie proceeds as all the groups go to battle against each other and then eventually against this man and his invention.

Then the movie goes into a chase scene with Guinness wearing this incredibly luminous white suit..... but you'll have to watch the movie to find out how it ends.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 18, 2005
Format: DVD
Just a note--I can't find as anyone's caught this. The soundtrack for this film is by Benjamin Frankel, a serious British composer whose symphonies are highly regarded, and is one of the best film scores Ive encountered in some time. In fact I'm surprised it isn't better known as it approaches the quality Sir William Walton reached in his Shakespeare scores for Olivier. I'd buy this DVD just for the music.

Otherwise this is an absolutely wonderful flick and, as an exercise in humorous cynicism about how the modern world operates I'd double-bill it with Wilder's absurdly under-rated "One, Two, Three."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Although Alec Guinness had already achieved a fair degree of fame on stage and on screen by the time he made THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, this is, in fact, one of his earliest starring roles. Strictly speaking, although he had portrayed eight characters in 1949's KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, this was his first comedy in which is played the lead. Playing inventor Sidney Stratton, Guinness further cemented his burgeoning reputation as one of England's most interesting and versatile actors.
The film features a marvelous though, to early 21st century film fans, largely unknown cast. Joan Greenwood, who is one of my favorite actresses in the history of film--beautiful, effortlessly sexy and sensual, enormously talented, and possessed of one of the great voices in the history of cinema--plays Guinness's romantic counterfoil. Cecil Parker, who while never a star, seemed to populate dozens of successful films without ever calling attention to himself. The film also features a typical performance by Ernest Thesiger, who played ancient-old-man parts for over forty years in films and is one of the most unique looking actors in British film history.
The story involves a quirky scientist inventing cloth that never gets dirty and never wears out, but which comes out of the lab pure white. This was at a time when a whole range of new synthetic fabrics were hitting the market, so the subject was very topical at the time. The plot revolves around the anticipated effects such material would have on the textile industry. The film is a comedy, but it is the kind of comedy that creates more smiles than laughs. It is not less delightful for that.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2004
Format: VHS Tape
Proof once again that the Brits make the best films. This film would never be made in America. Its blend of social satire, comedy, political comment, and underlying seriousness, makes this film unique. That someone could call this film "frothy" is incomprehensible to me. It is a deft satire with a serious message, without ever seeming serious. The film makes you think while it is entertaining you. Guiness is superb as the brilliant, but clueless, scientist who invents a fabric that never gets dirty and never wears out. Seems great, doesn't it. But a worker at the plant where Sidney (Guinness) works sees what he doesn't: that they will only have to make one lot. So labor turns against the idea, and of course, management wants to suppress it (in favor of planned obsolescence).

It is all delicious fun all the way, all the while making you think about modern, consumer-driven economies. The cast is composed of Ealing regulars, all of whom turn in top notch performances. This is one of the all time great films. Don't miss it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2006
Format: DVD
This is a fantastic, allegorical Ealing Studios "comedy." I put quotes on comedy because to me this is more of a dramatic film or maybe an ironic comedy, one particularly suspenseful at times.

Alec Guiness is terrific as usual as Sidney Stratton, a rogue scientist who goes from research lab to research lab at local textile mills, building and testing his experiments until he gets found out and fired. Eventually, after a great scene-one of several-in which Stratton's passion and determination prove both volatile and destructive, not to mention frightening (to the genteel prim English manner), he is given a chance.

Though not immediately successful, his chemistry proves exactly what he desired, a fabric that repels water and dirt, and will never wear down. Though it does illuminate at night, a nuclear allusion that elevates the allegorical nature of the film. To read into this a picture of a unconscionable maverick works, especially considering this was made just six years after Horoshima and Nagasaki.

But in this day and age I also sympathized with Stratton's determination to revolutionize. Representing progress his invention is a threat to the status quo, and the elite, whose authority partly rests upon the assumption of a demand for what they produce. But not only does capital fear him, labor worries for their own existence. A fabric that never breaks down means no jobs.

This dynamic is present today in myriad forms. Whether in our own class system, or industry, progress is begrudged even while it is celebrated. A reformation of paraigm means instability. But would we have more electric/alternative fuel cars, greater solar and wind generation, or more advanced medicines if those who rule such fields didn't seek to maintain their own status as much as they support progress?

A rogue throughout, Sidney Stratton is so myopic to his work that it's effects never exist to him. Such tenacity and fire makes for brilliance as well as destruction. Rock musicians who burn bright but flame out early come to mind. The way of the world must be progress, but progress with a conscience.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Civilization should thrive on progress! But when a scientist in a textile mill produces a white suit made from a fabric that will never wear out and never get dirty, society is suddenly not so sure that one particular progress is of benefit. Actually, it's more of a threat to both labor and management.

What is most interesting about The Man in the White Suit is that characters on both sides of this story are all "sympathetic" and make a good, understandable case for their situation. Who does suffer here is the class system that would deny a general benefit in order to maintain the system, itself. It's that selfishness that looks the most ridiculous here.

Despite the fact that this is a British film, skewering that well-defined class system, all this satire is equally applicable to any group. We claim to want to "save the environment," but what would happen if someone invented, today, a car that ran on tap water? The status quo would be challenged, jobs would be lost -- maybe even yours. How would you feel about saving the environment then?

Ultimately, we all have to come to decisions about such progress, as does the audience of The Man in the White Suit.

Highly recommended!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
I recently purchased The Horse's Mouth (1958) from Amazon as well as "The Alec Guinness Collection" which includes The Man in the White Suit (1951) plus four others: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Captain's Paradise (1953), and The Ladykillers (1955). Frankly, I was amazed how well each of the six films has held up since I first saw it.
Directed by Alexander MacKendrick (who also directed The Ladykillers four years later), what we have in The Man in the White Suit is Guinness' own version of the naive, indeed eccentric visionary/inventor/humanitarian. Sidney Stratton's dream is to create a fabric which never wears out and cannot be soiled. Endless (sometimes explosive) experiments involving various gurgling contraptions prove unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Stratton is fired from his job in one research laboratory, continues his research in another, and eventually succeeds. Or so he thinks.
One of these film's several delights is Joan Greenwood's portrayal of Daphne Birnley, daughter of the owner of the company in whose laboratory Stratton finally discovers the correct formula for the miracle fabric. Her father is played with great style by Cecil Parker who is almost as eager to marry off his daughter as he is to save his company. Only a spoilsport would reveal the climax of this entertaining film, one which may surprise viewers as much as it does Stratton and Alan Birnley. Sadder but wiser, Stratton ambles (as only Guinness can) into an uncertain future. Nowhere else throughout the plot is the special soundtrack more effective than it is in this final scene.
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