The Man in the White Suit tells the story of researcher Sidney Stratton (Guinness), who, through chemistry and some minor combustion (which gets him fired from his original job at Corland Mills, run by Michael Corland (Michael Gough), he is snapped up by the rival Birnley Mills, where his attempts finally succeed in concocting an innovative thread, a polymer that repels everything, making an indestructible, water-proof, stain-resistant weave—it even resists dyes, thus making it a permanent glow-in-the-dark white color.
It's seen as something of a revolutionary break-through, a boon to the consumer. And Stratton sees it as a revolution of sorts: who wouldn't want an indestructible suit or dress that would never wear out and never need to be replaced?
Clothiers, for one big example. The garment industry. With clothing that can never rip, fray, stain, or shrink, who would want to buy other clothing ever again? So, after the initial flush of excitement over the innovation, the corporation Stratton works for, Birnley Mills, looks down the fiscal road and sees consumers with no need to further buy replacement clothing. And so the corporate board acts to repress Stratton's invention, trying to buy out the rights in order to do it, but Stratton, with an inventor's righteous zeal, refuses.
And lest anyone think this is a liberal screed about corporate greed, it casts equal shade at the trade unions who also want to stop progress, as the fabric is seen as a threat to industry that will cost workers' jobs, should it ever see the business end of a coat hanger. Despite being offered a million dollar deal to sell out, Stratton resists, and is held captive as long as he holds out, but he has the sympathy from the daughter (Joan Greenwood) of the mills' head (Cecil Parker), if only because the board tries to recruit her to turn Stratton's mind around.
|Stratton ensures that he will always be the brightest guy in the room.|
There's another aspect to The Man in the White Suit that endears it to me, but it's purely personal—it's the charmingly goofy lab sounds that emanate from Stratton's efforts that create a sort of obsessive fandango as he pursues his efforts. I came across the track (created by sound editor Mary Habberfield) in a BBC sound effects library, and, when I worked on a certain kids' science show, I had the intention of using the track on a proposed second season episode about "Psuedo-science." Budget considerations pushed the subject to the third season and, by that time, I had moved on to other things. Still would have loved to have had that little private joke realized, though.