As someone who worked for years in manufacturing, it is a little sad for me to see the world of the textile mill in The Man in the White Suit – by now, since we make so little anymore either in the States, or in the U.K., it is almost a world we have lost, and its labor vs. management conflicts seem almost antique. Textile manufacturing was, however, one of the engines that drove the industrial revolution in the country that gave it birth – Britain. This movie shows us the two Britains, bisected by class. By mid-century, when it was made, everyone was conscious of those two existences, though we haven’t seen them sharply outlined in previous offerings in this series of British films – the life of the working class and the life of the ruling class.
It was written by Roger MacDougall, John Dighton, and Alexander Mackendrick from MacDougall’s play and was directed by Mackendrick. MacDougall, Dighton and Mackendrick were nominated for a best screenplay Oscar. Like the other Ealing Studios films it was produced by Michael Balcon. It starred Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, and Cecil Parker. Alexander Mackendrick reportedly told Cecil Parker to model his performance as mill owner Birnley on producer Balcon. If Ernest Thesiger, who plays the elder statesman of the textile industry, seems familiar, you may remember him as Dr. Pretorius from James Whale’s 1935 film The Bride of Frankenstein. I think Benjamin Frankel’s music for this picture is extraordinary and revelatory. The apparatus sounds were created from tuba and bassoon notes by sound editor Mary Habberfield. Later they were set to music on a popular recording called “The White Suit Samba”. Douglas Slocombe was the cinematographer. He photographed several of the Ealing comedies, and he finished his career thirty years later as cinematographer on the Indiana Jones movies. The film was released in August, 1951 in the U.K. and the following March in the U.S.
Leslie Hallowell, the British film reviewer, wrote, “Brilliant satirical comedy played as farce and put together with meticulous cinematic counterpoint, so that every moment counts and all concerned give of their very best.” I hope you enjoy watching it with me tonight.