The Small Back Room (1949) Other movies recommended for you
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Plot: The best bomb disposal officer during World War II was badly injured and is in frequent pain. He finds solace and relief from his pain in the whisky bottle & the pills that are never far away. A new type of booby trapped bomb push his nerves & resolution to the limit. Written by Steve Crook Runtime: 106 min Release Date: 21 Jan 1949
This film is an interesting return to the general subject matter of Powell and Pressburger's black and white war films 49th Parallel, One of our Aircraft, etc.. , but, made four years after the end of the war, it is a moody piece that focuses on a man disabled by the war. It is typical of their work in that it features brilliantly well-rounded, truly adult characters without easy answers or one-dimensional poses; it is also a departure from their other films of the period in its lack of flamboyance and otherworldly flair. The gritty style - no music, for example, and wonderfully spare <more>
dialogue by Pressburger - is perfectly echoed by the intense performances of Kathleen Byron and David Farrar. As always, Powell's keen visual sense is paramount to the brilliance of the Archers' films, and the bomb-defusing scene on the beach makes great use of the setting in its compositions and editing. Although it is not the best introduction to the work of Powell and Pressburger, this film is a keen testament to the capacity of their storytelling abilities in weaving a tale of a man who finds redemption through work and love. Whether their films are explorations of the power of art or the effects of war, I consistently find their work profoundly moving. Let's hope that it is FINALLY released on video or, better still, DVD. Attention, Scorcese!!!!
One of the finest films of the 1940s (by paul-1983)
I have often sought out black and white films from the British cinema and was not disappointed when I came across The Small Back Room. Now possibly one of my favourite films of all time, the very good, simple underlying plot is overtaken by the principal characters, played by David Farrar and Kathleen Byron. An excellent supporting cast, including Michael Gough, Jack Hawkins and Leslie Banks enables the viewer to pull the curtains on a rainy afternoon and to lose themselves in a world that is not quite the 1943 in which the film is set and in in some ways is much later than the 1949 in which <more>
it was made. The relationship between Sammy and Susan is a deep and powerful, but secret one and is more curious when one has time to reflect and put it into its early or late 1940s context. The fact that they keep their feelings from their colleagues is endemic of the times but is a little curious nonetheless. A friend who knows about such things immediately latched onto the way that another male character fixes his intense gaze upon Sammy Rice to the extent that it now makes me a tiny bit uncomfortable in a non-21st century way. Keep watching this film and you will see more and more interplay between people that implies a further raft of professional and social relationships that the film never actually explores or explains. My verdict: Catch a stinking cold and take a day off work. Curl up on the sofa with a hot drink and lose yourself in a world that you will want to keep coming back to.
This is from a time when writers still roamed the earth (by benoit-3)
A fine terse drama like this one is inconceivable today for many reasons, most of them having to do with market forces which dictate that only films about superheroes in long underwear and adolescent revenge fantasies are to get financing and international distribution. But the main reason why it can't be duplicated today is the quality of the writing by Emeric Pressburger, an innovative genius who wasn't afraid to leave his mark on material adapted from another medium and to use his imagination to keep things vivid at all times. The film shines in its production values, photography, <more>
art direction, casting but most of all in its details and its capacity to involve the viewer in a subject that would seem almost repellent today, a complicated and imperfect man's devotion to his work in time of war. If a film's success is to be measured by its capacity to take the viewer out of the ordinary, this film is certainly a hit. Its success is helped by the talent of the principals, a wise woman every warrior would like to return to Kathleen Byron and the most gorgeous hunk of uncompromising masculinity ever to grace a British screen and titillate the female viewers, David Farrar.
Quite apart from its wartime themes, this is the best introduction I know to the world of office politics and power broking. Fans of Ricky Gervais are advised to give this little film a viewing. It has enough story lines to keep everyone happy and the cast is mighty fine at playing a variety of individuals. It's hard to think of a better supporting-role performance from Jack Hawkins, and anything with Kathleen Byron in it always has to be watchable.I've only just read the novel of the same name, on which it's based still in print and available, and strongly recommended by the way <more>
. Comparing the two, it's easy to see how so much of the film derives from the novel; but this is far more than a film of the book. Powell and Pressburger have done a superb job of focusing and concentrating the novel's strengths.
Master filmmakers Powell and Pressburger return from their much-more-famed stint to make their much-more-underrated "smaller" film "The Small Back Room", a combined thriller/romance in heady expressionistic tones. Emphasis put on the last phrase-work there, this movie is GORGEOUS. It's not really noir, but the lighting and staging put the genre to shame.Among many surprises here are some of the actors of Black Narcissus taking on new amazing roles, a mysterious German boobie-trap, and an expressionistic interlude that matches the opera from Red Shoes but is structured <more>
more like The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra. The timing of this movie is great, too, as long involved sequences showcasing Sammy's alcoholism and doubt stretch to painful lengths, whereas his technically much longer scene defusing a bomb is so tense that it seems to whip by in a second.Fans of the Archers should pretty much make it a point to see this. People unfamiliar with them could possibly get overwhelmed by all the promises of Black Narcissus, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Red Shoes, and A Matter of Life or Death, but could start here for something considered a bit smaller but just as good. A Small Back Room may not have quite the credentials, but it has all of the quality of the Archers' oeuvre.--PolarisDiB
An absorbing, if at times very depressing, character drama (by GusF)
Based on the 1943 novel of the same name by Nigel Balchin, this is an absorbing, if at times very depressing, character drama. As I have come to expect from Powell and Pressburger's films, the duo's writing and direction is excellent. Both are very effective in communicating the struggles that a person goes through while dealing with alcoholism and depression and the negative effect that they can have on relationships. This is certainly helped by the moody, atmospheric cinematography of Christopher Callis. I loved the interaction of light and shadow throughout the film. When it comes <more>
to the treatment of the World War II material, the wonderful bomb disposal scene towards the end of the film is the most tense scene of its kind that I have ever seen. In contrast to the duo's earlier films, this was a bit of a flop at the box office. Powell attributed this in part to its extremely gloomy tone, which he did not think sat well with postwar British audiences.The film stars the sorely underrated David Farrar in a first rate performance as a military scientist named Sammy Rice, who is assigned to a "back room" think tank in London which is run by his friend and mentor Professor Mair. Sammy is a bitter, morose man who has a low opinion of most things in life, including himself. He has an artificial foot which is extremely painful but which he refuses to take off while in the company of other people, even his girlfriend Susan. The doctors have naturally given him painkillers but he finds them largely ineffective. He has instead turned to the "noble remedy" of alcohol, which is not much better when it comes to dulling the pain. However, it is effective in dulling his other senses, at least for a few hours at a time. There is a sense that Sammy is merely going through the motions when it comes to his life and, if there had not been a war on, he would probably do nothing more than shut himself away and drink. He is severely depressed, something which is not helped by his heavy drinking, and these feelings have manifested themselves in the form of self-pity. While Susan is more loyal and supportive more than most people would be in those circumstances, she eventually has enough of Sammy's attitude and the fact that he is neglecting her. She tells him that losing his foot means that he can't be a professional footballer but it does not mean that his life is over as he still has a great deal to live for. It becomes clear to Susan that he has no ambition to better himself and she breaks up with him. This sends him on a downward spiral. His drinking becomes even more pronounced and he starts a fight in a bar but is thrown out before it can escalate any further. He even cracks open the bottle of whiskey that he and Susan had been saving for V-E Day. This is followed by an excellent fantasy sequence in which Sammy is almost crushed against a wall by a giant bottle. This symbolism is not exactly subtle but it is extremely effective. The fact that the beginning of the fantasy sequence is accompanied by an extremely loud ticking sound is representative of Sammy's realisation that he is wasting his life. After this, he manages to sober up and begins to get his life back together. The role of Susan could have been a rather thankless one but Kathleen Byron delivers an extremely good performance, her best moment being the breakup scene, and the character always seems like a real person.In one of his first film appearances, Michael Gough is very strong as Captain Stuart, a young officer who comes to Sammy in the hope that he can help figure out the workings of small booby traps which the Germans have recently begun dropping on Britain during raids. This investigation of the booby traps, disguised as thermos flasks, forms a major backdrop to Sammy's struggles with alcoholism and is ultimately one of the reasons that he is able to overcome it. Jack Hawkins is excellent as the think tank's smarmy, sleazy, obnoxious and condescending administrator R.B. Waring, whom both Sammy and Susan feel like punching at different points during the film. I admire their restraint. In a small but uncharacteristically serious role, Sid James is great as the sympathetic bartender Knucksie Moran. The same is true of Cyril Cusack as Corporal Taylor, who is trying to save his deteriorating marriage. Robert Morley, credited as "A Guest," has a fantastic cameo as the incredibly dimwitted Minister in one of the film's only light-hearted moments. The film also features nice appearances from Geoffrey Keen as the civil servant Pinker who is a bit of a stinker , Michael Goodliffe as Till, Renée Asherson as an A.T.S. corporal, Walter Fitzgerald as Professor Brine, Anthony Bushell as Colonel Strang and, in one of his final film appearances before his death in 1952, Leslie Banks as Colonel Holland.Overall, this is an excellent film, even if it isn't on the same level as the Archers' best work.
The Archers at their least flamboyant (by jandesimpson)
As I am sometimes less than kind in my comments of the Archers, it was a pleasure to rediscover the other day "The Small Back Room" , a film I had not seen since its original release. Although this is generally regarded as one of their minor works, presumably because of its lack of flamboyance, it takes for once a very serious theme and treats it in a thoroughly mature way; that of the psychologically flawed individual and how he reacts when faced with possibly the greatest challenge in his professional career. Two of Sidney Lumet's finest films, "Equus" and "The <more>
Verdict" have the same subject. Sammy Rice, the boffin of "The Small Back Room", is struggling with alcoholism and the mental as well as the physical pain of coping with an artificial foot when he is called upon to discover the way to dismantle one of several booby-trap explosive devices dropped by the Germans over Britain in 1943. The casting of the two central characters is perfect. Although the part of Sammy calls for someone with a James Mason like authority, a much lesser actor, David Farrar, rises to the occasion particularly as he has the advantage of a large lumbering frame that conveys a certain physical awkwardness. As his sympathetic ladyfriend, Susan, Kathleen Byron drops her "Black Narcissus" melodramatics to give the performance of her lifetime as the woman who really knows how to handle Sammy when he is at his lowest. Add to this the fine camerawork of Christopther Challis, particularly liberal in its use of huge closeups that significantly heighten the psychological tension of the narrative, and you have a film well worthy of attention. In only two scenes does it falter. Unfortunately by conforming to the tiresome custom of British films of the period of sending up the Establishment, it presents Robert Morley as a rather silly senior minister. Although this would have probably fitted in the context of a comedy it is out of place in a film as darkly toned as this. Then there is the melodramatic lapse of resorting to Teutonic Expressionism when Sammy is fighting his alcoholism. In this nightmarish sequence he is physically dwarfed by a giant whisky bottle and an alarm clock. This is one of only two scenes to use background music. For the rest, untypically for this period, it does without. It makes for a stronger, more hard-edged experience.
I must have a drink. Ask me to have a drink woman. (by Spikeopath)
The Small Back Room AKA: Hour of Glory is directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, with both adapting the screenplay from the Nigel Balchin novel. It stars David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Jack Hawkins, Leslie Banks and Michael Gough. Music is by Brian Easdale and cinematography by Christopher Challis.As the Germans drop explosive booby-traps across coastline England, Sammy Rice Farrar will be tasked with learning the secret to disarming the deadly devices. But first he must beat his private battle with alcohol, his form of self medication due to the loss of one of his feet.The <more>
Archers produce what is in essence a tale of redemption, it's a superbly mounted drama dripping with realism and infused with atmospheric black and white photography. It somewhat divided critics back on release, but that tended to be customary where Powell was concerned, who himself wasn't sure about the validity of this particular piece. Yet it finds Pressburger and himself on sure footings, returning to more grounded human dramatics, their willingness to explore the murky fallibility of mankind is a thing of bold and effective cinematic beauty. The by-play between Farrar and Byron is sexually charged, but heart achingly poignant as well. The pic is at its best when these pair share scenes, the back drops to their troubled courting veering from vibrant hope to dour despair , the latter always staged at Sammy's gloomy flat and the scene of a brilliantly filmed expressionistic nightmare that he suffers. Elsewhere various military types either stand tall or sit behind desks speaking in correct literary tones, their collective problem being that the pesky Germans have come up with a vile bomb tactic that needs addressing ASAP.Can Sammy come through for not only the war effort, but also for his sanity? Watch and see, it's great film making across the board. 8/10
The films of Michael Powell feature quite prominently in the list of greatest British films list . BLACK NARCISSUS , THE RED SHOES , THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP and A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH all feature there somewhere . This film called THE SMALL BACK ROOM is constantly ignored for some reason , perhaps the fact it's in black and white might have a lot to do with it but is certainly of the best films in Powell's resume Perhaps this fact that it is shot in black and white works in its favour ? In some ways it's a different take on film noir . David Farrar plays Sammy Rice <more>
a scientist working for the war office and finds himself besieged on all sides by marketing agents who want to win government contracts for new weapons even though these weapons are nowhere near as effective as the marketing men claim . What the film does brilliantly is taking us in to the tortured psyche of Rice who knows fine well that this will cost the lives of young men who have to fight the war against Nazi Germany with these weapons In film noir the protagonist is portrayed as a flawed anti-hero and in the case of Rice he's flawed both physically and mentally . He has a foot missing which has been replaced by a tin one that causes him pain which has led to an addiction for pain killers which don't work except to feed his addiction . Rice also has a sometimes addiction to alcohol and Powell shows his expressionistic influences by a quite breath taking sequence where Rice has to literally fight his addiction . The entire film benefits greatly from the cinematography of Christopher Challis that any director of film noir would kill for One other overlooked aspect to THE SMALL BACK ROOM that you would never get in an American movie is the " joint effort " portrayal of the allies . Churchill summed up allied victory as being won by " American money , British courage and Soviet blood " a somewhat simplistic sound bite but the fact is it was a broad coalition of many countries and of many brave young people who can claim the victory for defeating Nazi Germany and it's nice to see a film open with a British officer finding himself surrounded by servicemen from America , Poland and France . Believe me you wouldn't get that in a 21st Century American film THE SMALL BACK ROOM remains one of the best films Powell made . Like the cosmopolitan coalition who beat the Nazis there's a lot of factors as to why it's a good movie . If you're expecting a war film then that's not what you're going to get because it's a journey through the psyche of a tortured man with the burden of a world at war on his shoulders and the film is good at portraying this on screen and contains some excellent cinematography