Monday, April 27, 2009

"The Man in the White Suit"



I watched the 1951 film, "The Man in the White Suit" the other day. It had been many years since I'd last seen it and it was a real pleasure to view it again. It was one of the handful of comedies that Alec Guinness starred in at Ealing Studios in England, and is part of a boxed set of DVDs currently available. In this film, Alec Guinness plays the mild-mannered chemistry genius, Sidney Stratton, who invents a fabric that is impervious to dirt, water, tearing, or wearing out with time. Unfortunately, this puts him in bad standing with both the garment industry and the labour union, who count on clothes needing to be regularly replaced in order to maintain their jobs!

Alec Guinness really was a chameleon as an actor, being able to play so many diverse characters, usually looking so different in each role. Almost unrecognizable as Fagin in David Lean's "Oliver Twist", rather hideous as a bank robber in "The Ladykillers", and playing multiple characters in "Kind Hearts and Coronets". Then of course, later in his career he played an Arab sheik, Prince Feisal in "Lawrence of Arabia". My favourite role of his though, is as Colonal Nicholson in "The Bridge on the River Kwai", particularly in that wonderful scene where he completely turns the tables around on his Japanese captor, convincing him that he will only be able to build his bridge by utilizing British know-how, and that he himself will assume command of the project.

It's unfortunate that many filmgoers today may only know of Alec Guinness as Obi Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars". As far as I'm concerned, that role is only a small footnote in such a long and illustrious career.

7 comments:

Brett McCoy said...

Sir Alec later came to despise the Star Wars movies, supposedly. "Kwai" is probably his best role, indeed! He got an Oscar for that, didn't he?

Thad said...

He sure had a lot of charisma. I'm frankly surprised he never got to be immortal legend status like Stewart, Grant, etc.

Pete Emslie said...

I think he may have had more of that "legend" status back in England, Thad. In addition to his work in the classic Ealing film comedies, Alec Guinness was also equally renowned on the British stage, along with Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud. American audiences only knew him primarily from the epics by David Lean and, regrettably, "Star Wars".

scott said...

Oh, jeez, how can anyone in our business not know all of Guinness' work! Doctor Zhivago, KInd Hearts and Coronets, Tunes of Glory, Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, The Ladykillers, The Horses Mouth, and on and on...

OK, Pete, how about a whole series of caricatures of all the great British actors?
The Ealing comedies are simply sublime. They are one of those things it is hard to explain to all you new guys... everybody is constantly referencing the whole 50s design aesthetic, but don't know the sources!

Brian Sibley said...

Brilliant caricature, Pete! As are your other recent ones of Einstein and the two Bobbies (Driscoll and Newton) on Disney's Treasure Island.

I'm sixty in July - how much would you charge to draw my birthday cartoon??

Floyd Norman said...

I don't know how Lucas convinced Sir Alec to come aboard "Star Wars," but it was a brilliant move.

Guinness managed to make that silly dialogue sound convincing. Great move, George.

Jim Hopkins said...
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