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Thu Jun 11, 2015, 11:34 PM

The science fiction film that Alec Guinness starred in, a quarter century before Star Wars

Even before he was Sir Alec Guinness, he starred in The Man in the White Suit:

The Man in the White Suit is an Ealing Comedy, meaning it was one of a slew of comedies produced by Ealing Studios between 1947 and 1957. Guinness was a mainstay in these productions, and is probably best known for starring in Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Ladykillers.

There were no spaceships or robots in this film; Guinness portrayed Sidney Stratton, an idealistic young inventor who creates a new synthetic fabric that's virtually indestructible and never gets dirty, it repels dirt with a static charge.

The owner of the mill where Sidney works loves the idea, until he realizes that no one will ever need to replace their clothing again, meaning he's out of business. Sidney's co-workers turn against him too, when they realize that they will be out of a job.

That said, The Man in the White Suit is one of the few movies ever to do what classic science fiction is supposed to: imagine a scientific breakthrough, a novum, and then see how it changes everything. (Or how it creates a social backlash, in this case.)


And his quasi-love interest, Daphne (the daughter of the mill owner), explains the dream most succinctly, when she tells Sidney: “Millions of people all over the world are 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 world’s going to bless you.”

But the prediction that “the world’s going to bless you” is sorely mistaken — and in a sense, The Man in the White Suit predicts the dilemmas that we’re still facing today. Technology is poised to eliminate more and more “drudgery” from our lives, by automating jobs that used to be done by hand. But that also means eliminating jobs (including, at this point, a ton of white-collar jobs.) And it turns out, as Sidney discovers, that setting people free isn’t an unalloyed benefit.


The Man in the White Suit takes a certain amount of care to portray a wide spectrum of society, as part of its broad social satire. We get to know some of the workers at the textile mill where Sidney has been hired as a menial laborer, as well as a lot of the rich capitalists who own the mill and other similar ones. Sidney is befriended by his landlady, as well as one of the workers on the textile mill floor, Bertha. Later, when the workers find out what Sidney’s been up to, Bertha insists that he’s being exploited, because in her mind he’s one of the workers. (And Bertha gets a lot of the best lines in the film, about the “dead hand of monopoly” and the relentless logic of capitalism.)

The film is structured as a farce, with lots of people running in and out of rooms and being chased and hiding — but it’s also a very broad look at how technological change threatens entrenched interests, and the ruthlessness with which the system of capital and labor colludes to keep innovation down.

Here's the IMDB page for The Man in the White Suit.

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Reply The science fiction film that Alec Guinness starred in, a quarter century before Star Wars (Original post)
LongTomH Jun 2015 OP
kentauros Jun 2015 #1
eppur_se_muova Jun 2016 #2
electric_blue68 Nov 2020 #3

Response to LongTomH (Original post)

Fri Jun 12, 2015, 02:50 AM

1. One of my favorite movies :)

And almost a quarter-century ago now, I sampled the sound of Sydney's chemical contraption, making a "Bloop-Loop" that I would sometimes use in the background when I was talking on air (at a local public radio station.) Someone else must have gone back to this movie, to sample it, as that sound is now a common sample-file in the music industry.

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Response to LongTomH (Original post)

Mon Jun 6, 2016, 01:07 AM

2. Loved that movie ! It's not just for science fiction fans at all, very humorous.

"Beware what you wish for, you may get it" is sort of the whole idea behind the movie.

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Response to LongTomH (Original post)

Thu Nov 5, 2020, 03:02 AM

3. I saw that decades ago. Would be interesting to see again!

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