An Inspector Calls DVD
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Directed by Guy Hamilton
Produced in 1954
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
Sim excels as the inscrutable Inspector Poole in this version of JB Priestley's classic play. It's the definitive film adaptation says Michael Brooke.
Alastair Sim thought of himself as an essentially serious actor long after his reputation as one of Britain's all-time comedy colossi had been indelibly lodged in the minds of everyone else, and this definitive adaptation of J.B. Priestley's much-performed theatrical warhorse gives some idea of how his career might have panned out had he been offered more challenging parts - but his other major 1954 screen role was his legendary drag act as the headmistress of St. Trinian's.
Here, he's the inspector of the title, unexpectedly descending on the Birlings, a prosperous Northern family gathered to celebrate an engagement, to quiz each member individually about their links to a young woman who has apparently committed suicide. Despite initial appearances, this is no conventional detective thriller: Inspector Poole's deceptively avuncular bonhomie, a quiet, inscrutable smile constantly playing on his lips, conceals a probing cross-examination technique that teases out the family's darkest secrets and exposes their complicity in hounding Eva Smith to her death.
Poole doesn't seek to expose any kind of collective conspiracy, but merely their individual acts of selfishness that arise from their basic inability to look at things from the point of view of anyone outside their own immediate social circle. Repeatedly sacked and seduced, mercilessly exploited and humiliated, it's no wonder that Eva saw little to live for: in 1912, before World War I acted as a great class leveller, people were still expected to know their place and respect their station. The film expands on the play by bringing her back to life, courtesy of flashbacks featuring a heartbreakingly vulnerable performance by Jane Wenham.
Future director Bryan Forbes also appears in a rare acting role as the hard-drinking Eric, handsome but dissolute younger brother of the bride-to-be. Unlike Stephen Daldry's famous post-modern re-imagining of the play in the 1990s, future Bond director Guy Hamilton plays the film version absolutely straight, trusting the text and his actors to bring Priestley's timeless themes of moral corruption and bourgeois hypocrisy to the fore - and despite the play's familiarity as a staple O-Level/GCSE set text, the ending still packs a wallop.
Michael Brooke on 27th January 2010
Author of 135 reviews
A stranger (a brilliantly mysterious Alastair Sim) arrives at an upper class family household at dinnertime and announces himself as Inspector Poole. He says he is investigating the case of a young girl called Eva Smith who has committed suicide, and as he slowly reveals the secrets that each and every member of the family harbour, he shows how these secrets make them complicit in her death. A classic adaptation of J.B. Priestley's famous play.
Publisher: Optimum Releasing
Length: 76 mins
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Cat No: OPTD1713
Format: DVD B&W
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