Saturday, May 16, 2020

Tonight's Movie: An Inspector Calls (1954) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Alistair Sim stars in the title role in AN INSPECTOR CALLS (1954), just released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

AN INSPECTOR CALLS is a filmed version of a stage play by J.B. Priestley, written for the screen by Desmond Davis. As the story begins, Mr. and Mrs. Birling (Arthur Young and Olga Lindo) are hosting a dinner celebrating the engagement of their daughter Sheila (Eileen Moore) to Gerald Croft (Brian Worth). Sheila's brother Eric (Bryan Forbes) is also on hand.

As dinner ends, Inspector Poole (Sim) arrives from the police department. He conveys that a young woman named Eva Smith (Jane Wenham) has just committed suicide, and he believes the family can shed light on what happened to her. They're initially mystified, but as the discussion continues each member of the family gradually realizes the roles they played in her unhappiness.

I won't be much more specific so as not to spoil either the mystery or the conclusion; that said, AN INSPECTOR CALLS has been filmed multiple times so some readers may already be well aware of the story.

I recently rewatched Sim in the classic mystery GREEN FOR DANGER (1946), so it was interesting to see him in another mystery-solving role as Inspector Poole. Poole, however, is not quite as endearing as Sim's GREEN FOR DANGER detective, as he relentlessly -- and somewhat creepily -- pushes each family member to reveal what they know. There's actually something a bit off-putting about the character, and in the end the viewer may have reason to believe this shading of the character was a deliberate choice.

While it was engrossing enough to hold the attention, AN INSPECTOR CALLS was only a so-so film for me. The storyline defied credulity in multiple ways; it seemed downright silly that each and every one of the family could have been so intimately involved in the life of Eva Smith. Moreover, while no one acted admirably, none of them actually committed a crime; this makes their cross-examination all the stranger. Here again, it may make a little more sense once one gets to the end, but it's a bit of a slog arriving at that point.

I was also annoyed that the film seemed to rob Eva Smith of the agency to make her own decisions. Instead her fate is seen to rest entirely in the hands of others, with Smith an innocent victim of class warfare, the poor young woman abused by the idle rich.

In the end this 80-minute film is more parable than crime thriller, illustrating the duty we each have to care for our fellow human beings, and the film's curious ending, which also won't be revealed here, serves to underscore that point. Anyone expecting a more traditional crime mystery should know going in that this isn't it.

The performances are all adequate, though no one particularly stood out for me among the small cast.  I was unfamiliar with the actors, other than Sim; it felt a bit like a very good stock company of unknown faces performing a familiar play, and I suppose that's pretty much what it was. The best-known cast member in addition to Sim is probably Forbes, who would also go on to work as a director. Everyone in the cast seems to have had solid careers, with Wenham working as recently as TV's DOWNTON ABBEY close to a decade ago.

The movie was the third film directed by Guy Hamilton, who would go on to direct GOLDFINGER (1964) and other James Bond films. The movie was shot in black and white by Ted Scaife.

AN INSPECTOR CALLS is one of a number of British films recently released by Kino Lorber. I have reviews of more in the works, including THE SOUND BARRIER (1952) and THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP (1955), as well as additional films from the British Noir II collection; I previously reviewed THE INTERRUPTED JOURNEY (1949) from the noir set.

The Kino Blu-ray print is crisp and the soundtrack is clear. Extras include a commentary by David Del Valle, an interview with actress Jane Wenham, and a gallery of three trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I had recent memories of a long-ago production of An Inspector Calls at the Shaw Festival in Ontario. I do not think I have ever seen the film and that just seems horribly wrong for a Sim fan.

6:51 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I saw the same production at the Shaw; thought it marvelous, and of curse, and of course this should not be seen entirely as a detective story but an investigation of all society; mostly one that comes up wanting.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

If you're a Sim fan I think you will definitely want to see it, even though it was kind of...odd. I also think if you have some memories of the stage production, you'll probably go into it with different expectations than I did and could well enjoy it more.

Best wishes,

8:58 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

How marvelous you saw the same production as Caftan Woman, Barrylane. I wonder if I would like the film better on a second viewing, knowing at the start that I wasn't sitting down to enjoy a "cozy" old-fashioned mystery film...although I think I would still have trouble with the plot construction, especially setting the entire story among one family.

Best wishes,

9:51 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

The play is somewhat different; not much but I think of it as other worldly, and the Inspector is not quite a human being. I think there are notes at Wikipedia that are more helpful.

As for the Shaw Festival, we were in residence at Niagara On The Lake for half a dozen years. It was a privilege to be there in town at that time. Nothing is the same any longer.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Yes, I agree, I read a couple literary analyses of the story last night just to help me digest what I'd just watched. Almost wish I'd read them beforehand!

It must have been marvelous to be able to take advantage of enjoying the Shaw Festival regularly!

Best wishes,

10:00 AM  

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