Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Month of Mysteries: Alastair Sims Hosts an Evening of Revelations in "An Inspector Calls"

A well-to-do British family of four, the Birlings, is seated around a dinner table in 1912. Each is dressed to the nines and the family is celebrating the betrothal of the daughter, Sheila, to Gerald Croft, the fifth person present. The remaining family members include the father, mother, and son, Eric.

We receive some hints about their personalities from small comments made casually. Sheila sometimes has a bad temper. Eric drinks to excess. Gerald’s mother thinks he can better himself socially. Mrs. Birling is extremely concerned about maintaining correctness in everything. And Mr. Birling is pleased about the prosperity and progress of the times, but naïve about the potential for war. He announces to Gerald that there is a good chance for him (Mr. Birling) to receive a knighthood “so long as we all behave ourselves and don’t get into the police courts.” Gerald responds, “You seem a nice, well behaved family to me.”

Right on cue, into their midst, appears Inspector Poole, who is about to change their lives forever. He brings the news that a young woman, Eva Smith, has just died from ingesting disinfectant. The inspector wants to speak with all five people and, one by one, a complex story emerges.

He starts with the beginning of the story. In the autumn of 1910, the father opened a new machine shop at The Works. It was brought to his attention that five female employees were dissatisfied with their low pay and having trouble making ends meet. One young woman, Eva Smith, boldly asked her employer why he couldn’t increase their pay. Mr. Birling’s solution was to fire them all.

After a few months, Eva found another position but had an encounter with a customer who had a hissy fit when she tried on a hat that didn’t suit her. The rude patron also happened to be a Birling, which resulted in Eva’s second firing. The story continues with each member at the table’s history with this woman.

Inspector Poole is expertly portrayed by Alastair Sim. He is an unusual detective who seems to know everything before it is revealed. As the story unfolds in flashbacks, we see that some members of the family truly are concerned for the part they may have played in Eva Smith’s predicament.

The mystery conveys a strong message: sometimes we can impact another person’s life much more profoundly than we may realize.

All of the cast members had busy careers on film but the one I have seen most often, besides Alastair Sim, was Brian Worth (Gerald Croft). Worth appeared in a host of popular British television shows including the Quatermass and the Pit serial, Danger Man, The Saint, The Prisoner, The Champions, and The Protectors. The other five actors include Jane Wenham as Eva, Eileen Moore as Sheila, Olga Lindo as Mrs. Birling, Arthur Young as Mr. Birling, and Bryan Forbes as Eric.

5 comments:

  1. Hey, toto, you mentioned this film in your comment to GREEN FOR DANGER yesterday! I thoroughly enjoyed your review of this thought-provoking movie. It's a great role for Alastair Sim, who plays a more serious inspector this time around--if indeed he is a police inspector. I haven't seen AN INSPECTOR CALLS in awhile, but will need to look for Brian Worth next time, as I'm a fan of all the British TV shows you listed. By the way, I saw a Broadway touring company perform AN INSPECTOR CALLS in 1990. It was good and the set (a warped house if I recall) was cool, but the film adaptation of the play was much better. Thanks for a great pick for the Cafe's Month of Mysteries!

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  2. Simply divine write-up, toto. I haven't seen this, and it was fun to read such a wonderful review of it. Thanks for sharing another mystery for this month!

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  3. This is my favorite Alistair Sim movie after "Scrooge." Enjoyed reading your review.

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  4. Toto, I will add AN INSPECTOR CALLS, to my list of "gotta see" films. Wonderful review!

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  5. This sounds like a great film..I'm definitely going to check it out! Thanks for the concise- yet thorough- review.

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