The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest English-Language Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Sidney Stratton gets moony-eyed when he imagines what he could do with “a modern laboratory—a proper laboratory.” When the textile mill for which he works discharges him because of his unorthodox experiments, he steals into a rival’s superior facilities and invents a fabric that repels dirt and never wears out. The mill’s ownership and unionized labor unite against him since his discovery will curtail garment sales and cost workers jobs. In his luminescent white suit poor Stratton becomes a hunted man through Wellsburrough’s nighttime streets.
Alec Guinness is heavenly as the young scientist whose tunnel vision banishes the claims of his fellow humanity, whose lives will be upheaved, even casually destroyed, by the obsessive “progress” that the twentieth century inherited from the Victorians as a secular holy principle. “What am I going to do?” a struggling neighbor, who takes in laundry to help her survive, asks him. Stratton’s humane expression shows that he cares; but still he persists with his blasted science! Not to worry: Capitalism will suppress his invention as it does all “better mousetraps”—as it has, for instance, razor blades that never lose their edge.
Science’s moral irresponsibility; the dogged pursuit of self-interest by both capital and organized labor; society’s reluctance to depart from the status quo: it’s all here, and with such visual fluency and grace one can hardly believe that Alexander Mackendrick’s film derives from a play. The script is by the playwright, Roger MacDougall, John Dighton and Mackendrick.
This British marriage of satirical comedy and science-fiction recalls H. G. Wells’s The Man Who Could Work Miracles (Lothar Mendes, 1937), but with an orientation more social than metaphysical. Here is one of the most riotously funny films in creation—a rival to Charles Chaplin’s masterpieces.
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