An Inspector Calls (1954)

Inspecting the Story

If you want to understand film, the first thing on the list is narrative structure, specifically cinematically structured narrative. If I were teaching in film school, I would introduce this subject in a semester’s worth of detective narrative.

Nowhere are more tricks pulled, more folding made than in this general notion of discovering a story rather than receiving it.

This droll movie is a good example. It was made from a play which means the dialog is more polished than usual and the staging less so. It has some strong and weak actors and some silly moralising.

But its structure is very clever.

It seems simple in that it exposes each member of an family as the “cause” of a death. After the beginning, you know each person will have a story, the question is where does it fit and what does it say?

The stories are told chronologically except for the last two which are reversed. The twist is that the death is happening while it is being solved and the inspector is some sort of being that exists halfway between the world of the players and the world of the (invisible) viewers.

Toward the end, there is introduced a brief veer towards ambiguity, as all the different episodes could conceivably be different girls. But the same magic that creates the odd inspector, and bends time, and allows flashbacks obviously created by the viewer instead of reflecting “reality”, that same magic conflates all the girls into one.

As a straight movie, it is pretty bad, except for one terrific scene with a girl in a fish and chips shop. If this were a slightly better movie that would be on many lists of best scenes. Folding: We unfold with the onscreen writer, who conflates and confuses while clarifying.

As an example for your film class, it is pretty cool.

Posted in 2005

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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