The Man in the White Suit (1951) dir. Alexander Mackendrick
The early parts of The Man in the White Suit could have been written by Ayn Rand. Alec Guiness is a genius inventor who cares only for his work. He is serially employed at textile mills, where he sneaks around and works on a project involving a special sort of fabric. One day, the daughter of one of the factory owners recognizes his gift, and procures a laboratory for him. Guiness then presents his creation — a new fiber which stays forever clean and doesn’t wear out.
Our Prometheus’s invention is not welcomed. The factory owners get together and scheme to suppress his creation. They worry that an indestructible suit would eliminate the incentive consumers have to buy new suits, thus destroying their profit margins.
Meanwhile, the union realizes the same thing. If one person only needs one suit, they’ll all be out of a job, and soon.
Up until this point, Guiness has been portrayed as a hero. A run-of-the-mill (no pun intended) parable would have the union and the owners suddenly realize that they can make money by selling different colors and styles of suits. Or, more prosaically, they would realize that if consumers no longer had to replace their suits every few years, they would have more money to spend on other goods and services, thereby increasing society’s overall wealth, and leading to a net increase in jobs.
But, the script cleverly stays neutral on the debate. Whether the union and owners are factually right in this imaginary case is irrelevant; we can easily come up with our own scenario.  . The point is that the audience suddenly doesn’t know who to root for.
Or, rather it’s rooting for everyone. It wants our affable genius to succeed, but it also doesn’t want everyone else’s lives to be ruined. Can we have both?
The brilliance of the satire doesn’t really, really hit home until the final moments of the film. What would be a happy, hopeful ending in most films is subtly turned into an ambiguous, playfully sinister “plop plop gurgle” of the test tubes.
The Man in the White Suit is #859 on the 2011 edition of the TSPDT 1,000 list I’m blogging through. I’ve now seen 421.