The Man in the White Suit Review

This is an extract from a review of the sixteen-disc Ealing Collection set. The full review will be posted shortly.

If Passport To Pimlico enjoyed the David-and-Goliath of pitting the population of a small London borough against the British government, The Man In The White Suit comes up with an even more inventive and absurdly lopsided fight, that of a lone inventor against science, big industry, the unions and, perhaps most unfairly, his own friends. Alec Guinness returns to Ealing for the film, playing Sidney Stratton, a lowly employee at a Northern mill who comes upon something that he believes will forever change the industrial heartland of England. At first, this is noticeable only by the scattering of pipettes, glass jars and Bunsen burners in the labs, any knowledge of which is denied by Stratton's colleagues but the daughter of owner Michael Corland (Michael Gough), Daphne (Joan Greenwood), has her interest piqued by the various contraptions and resolves to find out more. That her father intends marrying her off to his rival, Alan Birnley (Cecil Parker) may have something to do with the glimmer of possibility that she sees in Stratton's clutter.

Unfortunately, her father doesn't agree and fires Stratton, whereupon he's picked up by Birnley and befriends Bertha (Vida Hope) and her more militant members of the employee's union. Daphne doesn't give up on him and when Birnley also throws him out, she finances a lab for Stratton to continue his work. In time, after many explosions, shattered glass and splintered workbenches, Stratton emerges with the fruits of his endeavour, a glowing-white material that never gets dirty, never torn and will last forever. It will, as he well knows, a brilliant invention but one that the mill-owners recognise as being too brilliant and if word spreads about it, they will go out of business. Unfortunately, as Bertha and her friends realise, if the mills go out of business, so they will lose their jobs and with but the one friend - Daphne remains supportive of him - Stratton finds himself on the run both from business and from the unions

Perhaps, it's lacking, when comparing it to Kind Hearts And Coronets, in moments that make one laugh out loud but The Man In The White Suit is an expert blend of conspiracy, comedy and terror as the world, such as it is in a Northern town, closes in on Sidney Stratton. It all begins mildly enough, with Stratton pottering about in various laboratories, not quite getting anywhere but talking a good story. However, with his moments of invention striking the occasional note of slapstick, he emerges from his lab wearing a brilliant white suit and his enemies take up arms, as well as his imprisonment against him. That the sun sets in time with Stratton's emerging from the labs is a visual clue to the terrors that await him as he makes his invention public. Alec Guinness is superb as Stratton and his performance, which veers between wonderment and fear, particularly as he engineers an escape, first from the mill-owners and then from the unions, and runs off into the back streets and industrial landscapes of this Northern English town. In the poor light and pursued by a gang bearing whatever weapons come to hand, Stratton's glowing white suit makes him easy to spot. The moment in which he's cornered and attacked, his apparently indestructible suit torn to shreds, is terrifying, the look of shock on his face containing notes of disappointment, of fear, of being misunderstood and of being very alone. However, perhaps the finest moment in The Man In The White Suit also belongs to Stratton as, his suit torn to shreds, he resolves to try again. Endlessly optimistic, it's a fitting final gesture in a film with an oddly pessimistic view of British life but one that Ealing, in the midst of the gentle comedy, had a right to call their own.


When reviewing Optimum's two-disc release of Whisky Galore!, I wrote, "[it] is a glorious-looking film on this DVD, with an almost perfect transfer from Optimum. Noise is almost non-existent and the contrast in the picture is simply beautiful, with a very complementary sharpness to the image. It's a DVD like this that make you wonder if the move to colour was an altogether wise idea so well does the story, production and look of the film work in combination with one another." That's not strictly the case with these six discs although the very last statement is confirmed given how the five black-and-white films supplied look a good deal better than the colour The Ladykillers.

However, they don't look at all bad. Kind Hearts And Coronets probably looks the best and, given that I would imagine that Optimum have used the transfer of Whisky Galore from their earlier release, it will look equally good. However, Passport To Pimlico is disappointingly soft, perhaps in an attempt to disguise the condition of the print but which leaves it looking much less impressive than any of the other films in the set. Then again, none of the films have been restored particularly thoroughly with all of them, even Kind Hearts And Coronets, showing some obvious print damage. It's also worth saying, not that I mind though, that there's a fair amount of noise in the prints used, although it does look more as though it was present in the original prints than was generated through the transfer.

None of them have been gifted with the kind of transfer that Warner Brothers, for example, carry out with ease but they could have looked much, much worse. Except, that is, for The Ladykillers, which comes along looking like 'before' presentation in one of Warner's features on the restoration work that they carry out on the movies in their archives. With the colours not quite matching, objects have a soft halo about them and though the colours are perhaps too rich to look anything like real life, they do tend to look quite unbelievable. The effect is akin, though obviously not quite as extreme, to watching a 3D film without the glasses, with it looking much like the old release of The Wizard Of Oz than the restored two- or three-disc version. Though still watchable, it could have been so much better.

Given the age of each film, it won't be a surprise to learn that each film comes with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio track, all of which aren't bad but do feature the occasional pop, click and bit of hissing. However, as one who doesn't object to the odd fault such as those, I thought them fine. In particular, there's a warmth about them, particularly Dead Of Night and Kind Hearts And Coronets, that's quite pleasing. The major oversight, given that these are Optimum releases, is that they do not come with subtitles.


There are no extras on this DVD release.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 03:55:31

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