Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Man in the White Suit (1951)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Man in the White Suit (1951, UK)

Director and co-writer Alexander Mackendrick's post-war Ealing Studios satirical comedy about capitalism was one of many similar films at the time that featured actor Alec Guinness:

  • the film opened with a view of Birnley's textile mill and its owner recalling: "Now that calm and sanity have returned to the textile industry, I feel 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"
  • in the plot (with elements of sci-fi) told in a flashback, oddball, idealistic, brilliant-minded inventor and often-fired 'mad scientist' chemist Sidney "Sid" Stratton (Alec Guinness) was employed as a lowly, menial worker at a Wellsborough textile factory in Northern England
  • Stratton was using the firm's research laboratories to obsessively and surreptitiously perform his own experiments, with equipment consisting of long tubes of gurgling liquids (one of the film's continuing auditory themes); when found to be using the equipment and facilities unauthorized, he resigned before being fired by irate mill owner Michael Corland (Michael Gough); Corland was engaged to marry Daphne Birnley (Joan Greenwood), the rebellious daughter of a rival textile mill owner

Birnley's Textile Mill

Factory Owner Alan Birnley (Cecil Parker), Daphne's Imperious Father

Corland Mill Factory
  • he found a way to pose as a worker at Birnley Mills, a rival mill owned by wealthy Alan Birnley (Cecil Parker); likewise in their laboratories with their expensive equipment and supplies (valued at 8,000 pounds), Stratton was experimenting on an invention "to astound the world" - a revolutionary, 'long-chain molecule' textile product; he ran out of the lab, screaming: "I've done it! I've done it!", but he was initially regarded as a "lunatic" until Daphne was inspired to speak to her father about the worthiness of his findings
Stratton Working on His Technological Invention
in the Lab at Birnley Mills and Screaming Out: "I've done it! I've done it!"
  • Daphne announced to her father the importance of Stratton's invention: "He's made a new kind of cloth. It never gets dirty, and it lasts forever"; at first, the free-thinking Stratton's scientific discovery and further exclusive research was embraced and financed by Birnley; however, there were strong doubts about Stratton's "tomfoolery" in the lab after multiple explosions in the building led to extensive damage and bills of over 20,000 pounds
  • however, the experiments eventually led to success - Stratton was able to create a new fabric that could serve as a substitute for wool, cotton, or linen; one problem was that the new unbreakable textile repelled dye just as it did dirt, so a method to color the fabric would have to be devised
  • the film's title referred to the brilliant-white, slightly-luminous suit that Stratton constructed for himself with the miraculous material (including radioactive thorium); Daphne dubbed him: "A knight in shining armor"
"The Man in the White Suit"
  • the mill owner's daughter Daphne Birnley was inspired by Sidney's indestructible cloth fiber invention; she took his side as a crusader for progress: ("Millions of people all over the world, living lives of drudgery, fighting an endless losing battle against shabbiness and dirt. You've won that battle for them. You've set them free. The whole world's going to bless you")
  • textile industry patriarch Sir John Kierlaw (Ernest Thesiger) was summoned to Birnley's factory to consult about the product; textile mogul Birnley was enthusiastic: "It'll knock the bottom out of everything, right down to the primary producers...It'll ruin all of them!", although he also admitted the product would be disastrous and engender chaos and disruption: ("I'll admit some individuals may suffer temporarily. But I will not stand in the way of progress"); doubts were also expressed about how the revolutionary fabric would directly compete with textile factory owners (and the workers) and their businesses, who would lose everything: ("But if this stuff never wears out, we'll only have one lot to make...Six months' work and that'll be the lot. Every mill in the country will be laid off")
  • in a devastating turn-around, during the closed-door business meeting between Stratton and the major mill owners, they announced that they had decided to pay him off to monopolize his product and work; they reasoned that if they didn't assume full control, it was feared that the new textile "might upset the delicate balance of the market", or might be sold to a competitor that could ruin them; there were efforts to pressure Stratton to give up complete control of his product/idea by paying him a quarter of a million pounds; Stratton refused, and after being physically restrained, he had to fight his way out of the room to escape
  • Daily Express newspaper headlines proclaimed fears of a disastrous market decline: "EVERLASTING THREAD SCARES MILL TOWN"; the textile moguls thought of a new strategy: "There's only one thing that'll pull the market together, and that is a denial backed with suppression, total and permanent... issue a categorical denial to the press. The stuff does not exist. It has never been invented. It never could be. There is no panic here whatsoever"
  • meanwhile, the group also decided to use Stratton's attractive friend Daphne Birnley to pressure him to sell the "world rights" to his new discovery; they tried to persuade her to help them convince Stratton to give up his idea: "You must realize how reckless exploitation of anything new would upset the delicate balance of trade"; she bargained for a payment of 5,000 pounds to do their bidding
  • the enticing Daphne spoke to Stratton and confided that she would escape with him from the mill-town if he would take the owners' lucrative offer: "I want what's best for you...I hate this town. The mill. Everything. People who think of nothing but money-grubbing...I want to get away, Sidney. I want to see something of the world beyond this dirty little town...I know what they offered you. You could live the rest of your life on it. Go anywhere. Do as you please. And if you want me - I'd come too"; even after kissing him, he refused, and she was relieved that he didn't give in; she suggested helping him to publicize the entire truth about the story surrounding the product: "We've got to get that suit to the newspapers. Show it to them and tell them the whole story. That will blow the lid off everything, and they'll never get it back on"
Daphne's Attempt to Speak to Stratton To Convince Him To Give In
  • in the film's astounding conclusion, Stratton (wearing his glowing white suit) was chased by a mob (of mill owners joined with striking workers, or CAPITAL and LABOR) that pursued him through night-time streets, to curb his invention; during the chase, he was met by his elderly landlady and washerwoman Mrs. Watson (Edie Martin), and he begged her to cover his glowing suit to hide him; she rejected him: "Why can't you scientists leave things alone? What about my bit of washin', when there's no washin' to do?"
  • unexpectedly, the material used to construct his suit was found to be unstable; the threads began to deteriorate like tissue paper and tore apart; Sidney realized he must surrender and he stopped fleeing - he was surrounded by members of the street mob (mill owner managers and trade union mill worker employees) as they ripped the suit from Sidney's body, leaving him only in his underwear, shirt and tie as they laughed and screamed: "It doesn't work! It's coming to pieces! We're saved!"
Sidney's Deteriorating White Suit
  • the film ended with Birnley's summation (voice-over): "The crisis is over now. The news of Sidney's failure brought relief to the world. It had been a hard and bitter experience for all of us. But we faced the future with confidence. We have seen the last of Sidney Stratton...At least, I hope we've seen the last of him"
  • in the film's final moments, Sidney had again been fired. On the street outside Birnley Mills, he had an a-ha revelatory moment ("I see") and realized how he could fix his polymer fabric, and hurriedly walked off. With a knowing grin, he realized how he could improve his formulaic creation - he would undoubtedly begin again after discovering the flaw in his original textile invention.

Sidney Stratton's Research Equipment (Bubbling Tubes) in Corland's Textile Factory Laboratory

Sidney "Sid" Stratton (Alec Guinness)

Mill Owner Michael Corland (Michael Gough) with Fiancee Daphne Birnley (Joan Greenwood), Daughter of Rival Mill Owner

Daphne to Her Father: "He's made a new kind of cloth"

Stratton's Loom to Produce the New White Fabric

Daphne Inspired by Stratton's Crusade to Seek Progress

Textile Industry Patriarch Sir John Kierlaw (Ernest Thesiger)

Failed Efforts to Pay Off Stratton to Prevent Chaos in the Textile Industry - He Refused to Be Paid Off

Convincing Daphne Birnley to Speak to Stratton to Give Up His "World Rights"

The Concluding Chase After Stratton by Mill Owners and Striking Workers

Washerwoman to Stratton: "Why can't you scientists leave things alone?"

Film's Hopeful Ending - Sidney: "I see"


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