When Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness) invents a seemingly indestructible fibre in Ealing’s satire The Man in the White Suit, he soon finds himself on the run from capitalists and workers alike. Finding himself locked in the attic of one of the factory owner’s houses, he makes his escape by lowering himself to the ground on a single strand of his special fibre.
You might think that this was done by rotating the set 90 degrees, Batman style, but you’d be wrong: this stunt was done for real, with Alec Guinness lowered down the side of the building on a length of piano wire.
He was none to sure about this, pointing out that out that the wire, normally strong, would break easily if it had a kink in it, quoting his naval training, and requesting something a bit tougher for what would be a considerable descent. His protests were ignored, the wire attached to his belt, and they began lowering him down the side of the building…
… the wire did break, although not until almost the end of the shot, and one of Britain’s finest actors plummeted the last four feet to the ground.
“No one apologised,” he remembers in his autobiography, Blessings in Disguise. “They rarely do in films.”