UK / British Lion – Watergate / 79 minutes / 1954 black and white
Writer: Desmond Davis / Play: J. B. Priestley / Cinematography: Ted Scaife / Music: Francis Chagrin with additional contributions from Joseph Bato / Producer: A. D. Peters / Director: Guy Hamilton
Cast: Alastair Sim, Jane Wenham, Arthur Young, Olga Lindo, Brian Worth, Eileen Moore, Bryan Forbes
A beautifully restrained performance from the legendary Alastair Sim is at the centre of this piece of vintage mystery from the mid 1950’s. Based on the very successful stage play by J.B. Priestley, Sim plays Inspector Poole who on an evening in 1912 calls on the well to do Birling household to inform them of the suicide of a young girl. Speaking to each family member in turn the Inspector proves that each in some way led to the girl committing suicide.
It’s quite a stagey movie but is opened out with the use of flashbacks of the family getting caught up in the life of the girl, Eva Smith (played by Jane Wenham), two of the family manage to get her the sack from two different jobs whilst the mother Sheila (Eileen Moore) refused to help at the time she needed it most – pregnant, homeless and hopeless, worst of all though youngest son Eric (Bryan Forbes – who would later go on to direct, including, notably, the original version of the Stepford Wives) is the one responsible for her “condition”.
All straightforward so far but it’s the final 15 minutes that really turns the whole story on its head and leaves you thinking “wow, I didn’t see that coming”, An Inspector Calls is a solidly entertaining slice of post war British mystery drama blessed with a great performance from Sim and a sting in the tale ending from one of Britain’s most loved writers.