Five years before the debut of the classic, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit came the release of another “The Man in the…” movie on the other side of the pond. The Man in the White Suit, which was produced by Ealing Studios and stared Alec Guinness, is far less famous than its flanneled counterpart, but is still widely considered to be one of the finest British films of the post-war period. The titles are hardly the only similarity between these two films, they both explore the existential dilemma that many people experienced following World War Two, but while The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit takes a stern approach to this subject, The Man in the White Suit follows a more comical route. Nonetheless, both films capture the insecurities of a postwar period in which the scale of life suddenly loomed large and the ever onward march of progress left many men questioning where exactly they fit into the world.
Sidney Stratton, the main character of The Man in the White Suit, is a young, intrepid chemist who can’t seem to hold down a job. After being fired from several textile factories throughout England for his inability to keep up with his mindless daily tasks, Sidney experiments one day and is able to fulfill his true goal of developing a fiber that will never get dirty and never wear out. We won’t spoil the ending for you but we will say that the peak lapeled, double breasted, pearly white suit that Sidney creates out of this fiber is really something. It’s a pretty obvious bit of cinematic symbolism that Sidney leaps out from his drab, workaday surroundings by donning a sparkling white suit, but the message is no less effective: drastic times call for some drastic threads.