Alastair Sim

Inspector Hornleigh Goes to It (1941, Walter Forde)

For the final Inspector Hornleigh picture, the filmmakers go propaganda. They do have some fun with it—the film’s first sequence is Gordon Harker and Alastair Sim on an army base, undercover as aged privates, investigating scrounging. It’s all played for laughs, sort of wasting some of the running time before Harker and Sim can get onto the bigger case (Nazi spies).

Unfortunately, the Nazi spy part of the film is never particularly interesting. Inspector Hornleigh Goes to It feels like a sequel where no one involved with the previous two worked on it (though they did). Harker’s character spends multiple scenes impersonating other people, hiding his identity as a police inspector—it’s as though the filmmakers decided to make that method his gimmick. As for Sim, as the bumbling sidekick, he has slightly less to do. The film’s rather disjointed; there’s no nice transition between the army base part and the remainder (in fact, I’m pretty sure the two of them are AWOL).

Forde does a fine job directing, even though he doesn’t have much interesting to shoot. The conclusion has a lot of potential but it’s too short; there’s no time for it.

There’s some bad acting too. Percy Walsh is Harker’s rival—apparently, Harker’s the joke of Scotland Yard and just doesn’t realize it, which also goes for making the film’s place in the series perplexing. The rivalry is lame and Walsh is awful.

So’s Raymond Huntley.

It’s got some charm, but it’s a worn out franchise.



Directed by Walter Forde; screenplay by J.O.C. Orton and Val Guest, based on a story by Frank Launder and characters created by Hans Wolfgang Priwin; director of photography, Jack E. Cox; edited by R.E. Dearing; produced by Edward Black; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gordon Harker (Inspector Hornleigh), Alastair Sim (Sergeant Bingham), Phyllis Calvert (Mrs. Wilkinson), Edward Chapman (Mr. Blenkinsop), Charles Oliver (Dr. Wilkinson), Raymond Huntley (Dr. Kerbishley), Percy Walsh (Inspector Blow), David Horne (Commissioner), Peter Gawthorne (Colonel), Wally Patch (Sergeant Major), Betty Jardine (Daisy) and O.B. Clarence (Professor Mackenzie).

An Inspector Calls (1954, Guy Hamilton)

For the majority of An Inspector Calls, I thought Alastair Sim’s delicate, thoughtful performance was out of place. The film’s incredibly melodramatic and contrived. After the twist ending… well, I’m pretty sure it’s still melodramatic and contrived, but it gives the impression of having an escape clause.

Regardless of title, it is not a mystery. Rather, it’s a British class piece (see the way I used the word “rather,” thought that choice was classy). But it’s a forceful class piece and not a subtle one. Subtlety probably would have helped some.

Even though he’s top-billed and he’s the best actor in the film, Sim is not the protagonist. He doesn’t even have the most screen time. But his every move is perfect.

Jane Wenham gets the most screen time and she’s good. Her role’s difficult, mostly because she never gets to act in a scene for herself; her scenes are always played for the other actor. Even when she’s alone in it.

Of the supporting cast, Eileen Moore and Bryan Forbes are good. Forbes is actually rather excellent, something not immediately clear because of the narrative structure. Brian Worth is sometimes good and sometimes bad. More bad than good. Both Arthur Young and Olga Lindo are comically bad. One has to wonder, especially at the end, if director Hamilton was instructing them to up the sinister.

Hamilton’s direction is solid and occasionally inspired. Francis Chagrin’s overblown score doesn’t help.

Sim’s great… but I’m not sure he makes it worthwhile.



Directed by Guy Hamilton; screenplay by Desmond Davis, based on the play by J.B. Priestley; director of photography, Edward Scaife; edited by Alan Osbiston; music by Francis Chagrin; produced by A.D. Peters; released by British Lion Film Corporation.

Starring Alastair Sim (Inspector Poole), Jane Wenham (Eva Smith), Brian Worth (Gerald Croft), Eileen Moore (Sheila Birling), Olga Lindo (Sybil Birling), Arthur Young (Arthur Birling), Bryan Forbes (Eric Birling), Norman Bird (Foreman Jones-Collins) and Charles Saynor (Police Sergeant Arnold Ransom).

Inspector Hornleigh (1939, Eugene Forde)

It would be interesting to know how much of Inspector Hornleigh features Gordon Harker (playing Inspector Hornleigh) on screen. While Harker does get a fair amount of the running time, a lot is spent on his sidekick, played by Alastair Sim, and the villains.

The script’s approach to narrative drains the mystery from the film. The mystery is solved at the end, but it’s a mystery the ending itself raises. It’s supposed to be a twist, but the film’s gone on so long (and it runs under ninety minutes) and made all the characters so unlikable, it doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s not even a particularly interesting investigation.

But then there’s Sim. Sim has this endless comedy sequence (it’s probably five minutes), where he bumbles around. It’s kind of amusing, Sim’s good and all, but it’s pointless inserted into this light police procedural. The approach to Sim’s character is strange overall. He’s a moron, but Harker’s star inspector brings him along… and spends all his time not just ridiculing his intelligence, but his Scottish heritage. Inspector Hornleigh does not think highly of foreigners–Scots are dimwits and the Irish and Greek are evil.

The supporting cast has ups and downs. Steven Geray (a Hungarian) plays a Greek villain with a poor Peter Lorre impression. Edward Underdown and Hugh Williams are a tad bland. Gibb McLaughlin and Ronald Adam are both fine.

Harker and Sim are able to keep the film afloat for a while, but they tire by the end.



Directed by Eugene Forde; written by Gerald Elliott, Richard Llewellyn and Bryan Edgar Wallace, based on characters created by Hans Wolfgang Priwin; directors of photography, Philip Tannura and Derick Williams; edited by James B. Clark and Douglas Robertson; music by Bretton Byrd; produced by Robert Kane; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gordon Harker (Inspector Hornleigh), Alastair Sim (Sergeant Bingham), Miki Hood (Ann Gordon), Wally Patch (Sam Holt), Steven Geray (Michael Kavanos), Edward Underdown (Peter Dench), Hugh Williams (Bill Gordon), Gibb McLaughlin (Alfred Cooper), Ronald Adam (Wittens), Eliot Makeham (Alexander Parkinson) and Peter Gawthorne (The Chancellor).

Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday (1939, Walter Forde)

Gordon Harker was fifty-five when Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday came out. It’s very strange to see a film from this period with someone his age the lead in a comedic mystery. I’ve never seen him in anything and I can’t remember seeing Alastair Sim in anything but I know Sim’s name. I spent the entire film trying to picture Harker as Scrooge, not thinking the bumbling sidekick could have been Sim.

What’s also interesting Harker’s brilliant detective’s fallibility. He makes mistakes, overlooks clues, thinks about things and even tries to work them out with other people’s help. In short, he’s a terrible film detective. It makes him so human, so believable, some of Sim’s more absurd characteristics are smoothed out. At the end, it’s not clear Sim is such a bumbler, which works for and against the film.

I have two complaints about the film. First, it doesn’t really take place on Harker’s holiday. The first act–the film is beautifully structured, especially for a whodunit, with a real fifteen minute first act–does take place on holiday but then it ends as the murder investigation begins. The holiday scenes were amusing and the setting good; I felt a little let down.

The second problem is more significant. We never find out the motive for the crime. The film concentrates on the rather complicated method and the explanation behind it, but never the simple motive. The ending is hurried with no time spent explaining.

But it’s a fun picture, with great acting.



Directed by Walter Forde; screenplay by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, based on an adaptation by J.O.C. Orton, a novel by Leo Grex and characters created by Hans Wolfgang Priwin; director of photography, Jack E. Cox; edited by R.E. Dearing; music by Charles Williams; produced by Edward Black; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gordon Harker (Inspector Hornleigh), Alastair Sim (Sergeant Bingham), Linden Travers (Miss Meadows), Wally Patch (Police Sergeant), Edward Chapman (Captain Fraser), Philip Leaver (Bradfield), Kynaston Reeves (Dr. Manners), John Turnbull (Chief Constable) and Wyndham Goldie (Sir George Winbeck).

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