Rage Against The Machine

An Inspector Calls (Guy Hamilton, 1954)

To read or watch the news these days, you would conclude that there is a lot of populist rage out there. Rage at the greed and larceny of the wealthy, resentment of the abuse of position and the network of secret handshakes that let the rich get richer. Anger at the casual absence of ethics, and the slowly dawning suspicion that recent “boom” times were primarily booming for one class at the expense of a few others.

If this describes you, you may well be looking for ways to feed that anger, to splash around in it for awhile, to play an angry game of Marco Polo with like-minded folk in a bright red Anger Pool at the Raging Rapids Mad Water Park. Might I suggest a viewing of An Inspector Calls to help you get your Kill The Rich freak on?

Priestley’s play, which this film is an adaptation of, is a fairly famous and frequently performed one. Alec Guinness was in its first London cast. Despite this, I was lucky enough to come to it pretty cold, and I think that helped my appreciation. With that in mind I’m not going to be too spoilerrific with this one – maybe some other time.

The story is of a wealthy family, the Birlings. Big house, servants, and we dress for dinner. Joined by Gerald Croft, a fellow who if anything is a little richer still, and who is engaged to their daughter Sheila. The year is 1912. Mother, father, sister, brother, future husband. These five are interrupted, caught in the act of being stinking rich and privileged, by Alastair Sim.

He is Inspector Poole, and he announces that a girl has died under mysterious circumstances, and he has some questions he must ask.

You can never, never go wrong having Alastair Sim in your movie. Here he is quiet, slow, as he methodically moves from person to person, slipping past their harrumphings, their general umbrage that someone would dare to question them, and occaisional declarations of “Impertinence!” on the part of Poole. His arrival casts pall enough, with his ghostly, sunken eyes; it reminds me of Death when he arrives at the dinner party in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, as he informs the dinner party that they are all dead.

The actor on the right is Brian Worth, who looks and rather acts like the poor man’s George Sanders. That’s all right by me – even diluted Sanders goes down well. He acted with Sim just a couple years earlier, playing nephew Fred in A Christmas Carol:
Calm and quiet Inspector Poole may be, but it is a full-throated excoriation of this wealthy family, stand-ins for the upper classes everywhere. They are depicted as selfish and careless, using and tossing aside working class folk without a second thought, regardless of the persons talents or virtue. If they can make a useful differentiation between a poorish person and a roast beef sandwich, there’s no sign of it. When confronted with their moral bankruptcy it begins to sink in what their privelege has done to them, but as soon as the threat of consequence dissipates, so do their crocodile tears. Some of them instantly, gleefully revert to form, others seem like they will try to learn. Even the best intentioned of them cannot help but do harm – it is the condition of being rich that is taken to task at least as much as the individuals.

In short, I came out of this wanting to punch the first millionaire I saw.

I have a tendency, wherever possible, to see films as monster movies. It is a side effect of my fondness for classic horror. There’s no way for me not see this as yet another vampire film. Here the vampires live in that Mansion On The Hill, a Dracula’s Castle of virtual moats and ramparts where the poor are not welcome but to serve, and the townsfolk wait in the slums below, sometimes decades, to be systematically and anonymously sucked dry.

In this story, Van Helsing doesn’t come to drive stakes and chop off heads – no, instead he peacefully shows the vampires pictures of their victims and makes them understand who they are, for they don’t seem to have noticed their own fangs.

So, if you…

1)Need to get a few machetes sharpened before going out to hunt down millionaires…

2)Are holding a pizza feed/torch preparation party with a few dozen friends before taking to the streets in search of investment bankers and mortgage brokers…

3)Have a Wall Street executive or Congressmen tied up in your basement and are hanging around waiting for their ether gag to wear off…

…you could do a good deal worse than pass the time taking in An Inspector Calls to get your moral outrage frothed up.




3 Responses to “Rage Against The Machine”

  1. Ryan says:

    I saw this performed in the West End of London in 1987 featuring some Thomas Baker who was described in the program as a popular 1970s children’s TV performer. He was adequate as Inspector Poole, but no Alistair Sim.

  2. Darrell says:

    Thomas? Thomas? He was really Thomas in the program? On paper, he sounds like good casting.

  3. Ryan says:

    I was just kidding, it really was Tom Baker.

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