WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN FILMS
A research scientist invents a fabric both indestructible and stainproof, but manufacturing interests and unions try to prevent its production. [ The Man in the White Suit credits: Dir: Alexander MacKendrick/ Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker/ 81 min/ Comedy/ Britain/ Creator as Hero]
“Don’t you realize what [the invention of this fabric] means? 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 whole world’s going to bless you.” So says the inventor-hero’s girlfriend, in an early, optimistic view of the situation. But as Ayn Rand once said, the man who invented fire was probably burned at the stake, and that is pretty much what happens here.
The genius at the center of this story is a man dedicated to the development of an idea—an ingenious new type of everlasting cloth. Lacking any equipment or funding, he takes menial positions in textile companies, just to have the chance to use the laboratories there secretly to bring his idea to fruition. Eventually, he achieves enough success to approach management openly for the opportunity to finish his experiments. But word leaks out to the company’s competitors and to the textile unions, who combine to try to stop the fabric’s production because its indestructible nature would mean a greatly reduced need for textile manufacturing. In the end, the inventor is literally on the run from the various vested interests endangered by his new fabric!
This story is a terrific tribute to the inventive spirit. It’s also a metaphor for the inevitable conflict between those who improve things and those whose lives and investments have been built around the status quo. In particular, it applies directly to events in early nineteenth century England, when the entrenched cloth industry and its employees attempted to prevent, through force, the introduction of new knitting machines.
Of course, change does involve real, sometimes catastrophic costs for individuals; and although this film sides with the lone heroic inventor, it also offers some sympathy to those who would suffer from change.
Judging by all this you might expect this film to be a drama but in fact it’s a comedy, and one of the first order. The script, based on a play, is consistently funny and Alexander MacKendrick’s direction makes the most of it. The real strength here is characterization. This film is jam-packed with odd, interesting, memorable characters. Even the smallest parts are played with great style, and the cast includes some of the best British acting talent of the day, including Alec Guinness in the leading role. The music is also superior.
The Man in the White Suit is not only a wonderful example of the creator-as-hero theme; it’s an artistic gem and a pleasure to watch. Note: This is one of the few selections in this guide to receive the perfect “double-five” score—that is, dead-on libertarian content and first-rate production quality/entertainment value.
“The Man in the White Suit is a paean to individualism, dreamers and pioneers.”