When I saw the credits and heard the music of An Inspector Calls, I cringed a little. Classic films drive me nuts because the acting is often so stagey and melodramatic, and it’s hard for me to take that when it’s not meant to be funny. I tend to mostly avoid older movies, and this film made me realise that is something I need to change.
One of the things I hadn’t taken into consideration was the Brits. I love a good costume drama. If there is such a thing as a BBC groupie, I am one. An Inspector Calls was instantly attractive in that sense: beautiful people, sets, lighting, costumes, and *gasp!* top notch acting. No one raising their voice above a hissy fit or flinging themselves about the scenes, chewing up scenery and trying to look good in the light. It still felt like a play, but in the best of ways. Nobody was overtly hammy; it was more like a smattering of ham.
These actors at first seemed chosen for their appearance, but as the story began to unravel and their characters with it, it was plain that they were cast for more than looking good in a suit and being popular with audiences. especially Inspector Poole. Even if the frightfully heavy-handed story and ‘lots of people talking’ factor couldn’t hook you, Alastair Sim as the creepily patient, enigmatic Inspector who calls during an awkward dinner at an uppercrusty abode would have you by the balls. His slow looks and smiles and his doleful weight in this room full of pretty people comes through and you want to know what happens, even if it means sitting through this literally unbelievably tragic moral tale with these terrible people.
The other characters seem at first to be average pre-war nobility, but even at dinner, their flaws begin to show. Fortunately it isn’t long before Poole shows up and gets the “action” rolling. He tells them all that a young woman has killed herself, and then begins to tell them, in a series of gently melodramatic flashbacks, how it’s all their fault and they are – except for the pretty young girl of course – completely awful human beings.
They are all caricatures of the time. The father is an overblown, social-climbing, probably gouty factory owner who doesn’t treat his workers well. There’s the young perfect couple in love with jealousy issues he a seemingly doting “young man with important work to do” who is super cheesy and HAS to be gay, and she a luminous, nagging, spoiled ball of well-spoken fluff. Then there’s the awful, domineering, sarcastic, passive-aggressive battle-axe of a mother (in a BAD dress) and the staggeringly drunken, handsome, weak, rebellious young son, smothered by his mother.
Enter Inspector Poole – mysteriously I might add, he just *poof* appears in the room somehow, and then starts telling them the deal about Eva Smith. A young woman from nowhere who has a mysterious connection to everyone in the family, leading of course to her sad demise. I had to sit through what felt like a nicely produced after school special at that point. Had it not been for the acting and the sort of just-needing-to-know the-final-answer factor, I’d have bailed. We follow each character through their involvement with the dead girl and how they each did awful things to her, ruining her life piece by piece, in their charming accents, without the least concern, in most cases (foreshadowing!). Fun!
However, there’s a twist, and that twist was what made it worth the watch for me. It too was cheesy as hell, and takes forever to get to the point, but like so many things the Brits do with film, it was just good! The characters were fun, the story hilarious and it made me think and left me with a lot of questions. But it mainly left me with one particularly burning question regarding Eva Smith’s tragic tale: why did she keep hanging around with these people ferchrissakes?!