Sunday, December 30, 2018

Don't Make a Scene: The Man in the White Suit

The Set-Up: File this under #MeToo.

If "pro" is the opposite of "con" then what is the opposite of "progress?"

Why, "Success," of course! Because nothing exceeds like successful companies trying to maintain that success. "By any means necessary." Now, to hear some say it, that's because they're "job-creators" and the more money they have, the more employment opportunities they'll provide or the more research they'll do, the more innovation they'll reach. That's the theory, anyway. The one they teach in the class-rooms, and the one they spin in the board-rooms. But, in the real world of business, money gets channeled to off-shore accounts, and gets spent on lawyers and lobbyists to manage the market-place to their advantage, or to buy out competitors, or to suppress innovation that'll put them out of business. They learned the lessons of the buggy-whip manufacturers. They saw it on a video-cassette on their Betamax's.

The Ealing Studio comedy The Man in the White Suit casts a jaundiced eye on the "Onward Towards Tomorrow" empty promises that Industry likes to spout, when a chemist comes up with a synthetic thread that is indestructible, stain-resistant and will eliminate the need to ever buy a new suit again, which throws the textile mills into such a tizzy that they go all-out to suppress it—and before you conservative snowflakes get in a wad, the film has the trade unions trying to suppress it, too. "Fair and Balanced." (and realistic, for once).

But, this scene doesn't have anything to do with that. No, this scene is about power and its abuse, another skirmish we're losing in the Industrial Revolution. It's the one where the ones in power think they can roll over you just because you don't have any power. And that one goes right down to the alligator brain when it comes to "The War Between the Sexes."

Captains of Industry, all, Cranford (Howard Marion-Crawford), Alan Birnely (Cecil Parker), Michael Corland (Michael Gough, the once and future Alfred), have been joined by Chairman Sir John Kierlaw (Ernest Thesiger, the once Dr. Pretorius) to figure their way out of this mess when money can't solve the problem with an idealist. And being gentlemen, they decide to whore out Birnley's daughter Daphne (Joan Greenwood), after distracting Birnley Sr. with an opportune phone-call.  It's doubly shameful that the guy who comes up with the idea is Daphne's fiance, Michael.

Greenwood's playing of this scene is wondrous. An ally of Stratton's, she sees the manipulation of these scared little men, and, while, initially, rather threatened—McKendrick shoots it with a high overhead shot that surrounds her with duplicity—she remains very much in control enough to shoot daggers at Michael and then to soak the blighters for as much as she can, shaming them while she does it. Those she can shame. Those who have feelings. Those who have a conscience. Or a soul.

She'll then barge out of the room without a word to her ineffectual father—at this point she doesn't even care if he'd go along with the plot or not, in what can only be called a "high dudgeon." She'll carry out their wishes, but not in the way they want, and will test Stratton for having more than a spine than the industrialists. Certainly to see if his spine is as straight and as forthright as hers.

I'll bet she never got paid that £5,000. 

What was I saying about progress?

Oh, yes. #MeToo.

The Story: The eccentric inventor Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness) is working at his latest of menial jobs, this time at Birnley Mills, where his freelance endeavors to create an everlasting thread have finally paid off...somewhat explosively. Initially hailed for his invention that will revolutionize the industry, the Burnley management and trade unions realize that such a cloth that repels soils and stains and never needs to be replaced...will be bad for business. A boon to mankind, but a bust for the bottom line. So, they attempt to buy Stratton's invention in order to suppress such a financially disastrous innovation. But, an offer of £250,000 does not dissuade Stratton, who has an idealist's principles. So, they lock him away against his stubborn will, while they decide what next to do with disaster looming for their looms.


CRANFORD  Fallen to what? 46.9! 
CRANFORD  Nonononono! No! No! Don't sell!
CRANFORD  Of course, there's not a word of truth in i…
CRANFORD  Yes, yes, I'll be on here for thirty minutes (hangs up)
CRANFORD  Well, that's just the beginning!
(Phone rings)
CRANFORD  Hello yes? Ge...Calcutta!
CRANFORD  Tomorrow will be a nose-dive!
MICHAEL  Just stop these rumors! It's absurd! 
MICHAEL  There must have been a leakage!
BIRNLEY  Well, you should know! You started the first one!
MICHAEL  It's no good you're blaming me for this young man! BIRNLEY  You know you very well you...!
CRANFORD  Sir John's right! Let's keep it to point, shall we? (Phone rings)
CRANFORD  Alright, put him on!

CRANFORD  There's only one thing that'll pull the market together! And that is a denial back to a suppression, total and permanent! Hello?

MICHAEL  How? We've already offered him a quarter of a million!

BIRNLEY  Well, we can't keep him here forever! I mean there are one or two laws in the country!

MICHAEL  I've got it! Maybe I should talk to him, let him name his own price.

BIRNLEY  I think not, Michael! I will!
MICHAEL  You should stop...
SIR JOHN Gentlemen! 

SIR JOHN Gentlemen.
DAPHNE  Knudson! 
DAPHNE  His door's locked. The key's gone.   
KNUDSON  I have it, Miss Birnley…
KNUDSON I'm sorry, Miss Birnley. No one goes in. He doesn't come out. Mr. Birnley's instructions.
CRANFORD  There's no sense in pursuing this boy with money. We've all seen him. It's nothing to him.
MICHAEL  Well, what else could? 
CRANFORD  Yes, yes, put him on, will you?
CRANFORD  ...Didn't seem to me to be the type!
MICHAEL  It's often that type that, uh...

CRANFORD  Very true.

BIRNLEY  Well, if we could just find a friend of his...I mean, someone who knew the best way to talk to him.
DAPHNE  Father.
DAPHNE  What's going on? What have you been doing to Sidney?
BIRNLEY  Now, really, Daphne. It's no concern of yours.
DAPHNE  I want to know just exactly what you've done to Sidney.
BIRNLEY  W-Will you...will you please...

DAPHNE  I'm sorry, Father...
BIRNLEY  This is an important business meeting here...

CRANFORD  Oh, Miss Birnley, just a minute! 
CRANFORD  (Stand by the phone, I'll ring you back)
CRANFORD  Um, Miss Birnley, I take it you know Mr. Stratton quite well...

MICHAEL  How well?
DAPHNE  We're very good friends. Why not?

CRANFORD  Why not? It might be useful.

CRANFORD  I thought I told you...oh! 

CRANFORD (chuckles)(to Birnley) It's for you!
SIR JOHN Sit down, Miss Birnley…
BIRNLEY  (No no...I cannot...)
SIR JOHN Miss Birnley, we're trying to buy the world rights to Mr. Stratton's new discovery...but he doesn't seem to trust us.
DAPHNE  ...doesn't he? Why not?

CRANFORD  Miss Birnley, you're the daughter of an industrialist. You must realise how reckless exploitation of anything new would upset the delicate balance of trade. 

CRANFORD  You understand that.
DAPHNE  I'm...beginning to...
SIR JOHN Good. Good.
DAPHNE You want to suppress it.
DAPHNE  But, gentlemen, if you aren’t able to persuade him, 
DAPHNE  ...why should I be able to?
CRANFORD  (Visibly uncomfortable) All men are susceptible Miss Birnley, I… I need hardly tell you that… 

CRANFORD’re a very attractive girl…
DAPHNE  (Unsettled, taking in the implication) Thank you... 

DAPHNE  (Recovering her composure, turning to her fiancĂ©) Well, Michael? What do you say?
MICHAEL  (Squirming, avoiding her gaze) It’s a desperate situation, Daphne,... 

MICHAEL  ...for the whole industry.
DAPHNE  Yes....
DAPHNE  Yes, I’m beginning to realise that.
CRANFORD  There’s no need to explain what’s at stake. 
CRANFORD  When I tell you that we’ve already offered Stratton a quarter of a million, you can see for yourself.
DAPHNE  I can indeed. 

DAPHNE  But since we’re on the subject of price, what do I get out of it?
CRANFORD (Horrified) Miss Birnley!
MICHAEL  Daphne!

DAPHNE  I...I haven’t had much experience of these sort of things, 

DAPHNE  ...but I’ve always understood that it was comparatively well paid.
CRANFORD  Now Miss Birnley… we didn’t wish to offend you in any way…
MICHAEL  (At the same time) Daphne, I…

SIR JOHN (Interrupting, calmly) I suggest… two thousand.
DAPHNE  Aren’t you rating my value a little low? Wouldn’t five thousand... 

DAPHNE fairer?
SIR JOHN Five thousand. Agreed.
DAPHNE  Agreed. 

DAPHNE  It’s a pleasure to do business with you, Sir John.
BIRNLEY  Well, Daphne...

The Man in the White Suit 

Words by Roger MacDougall, John Dighton, and Alexander Mackendrick

Pictures by Douglas Slocombe and Alexander Mackendrick 

The Man in the White Suit is available on DVD and Blu-Ray by Anchor Bay Home Video.