SMALL BACK ROOM, THE (aka: Hour of Glory)(director/writer: Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger; screenwriter: from the novel by Nigel Balchin; cinematographer: Christopher Challis; editor: Clifford Turner; music: Brian Easdale; cast: David Farrar (Sammy Rice), Kathleen Byron (Susan), Jack Hawkins (R.B. Waring), Milton Rosmer (Prof. Mair), Cyril Cusack (Cpl. Taylor), Emrys Jones (Joe), Leslie Banks (Colonel A.K. Holland), Michael Gough (Captain Stuart), Robert Morley (Minister), Sidney James (Barkeeper), Colonel Strang (Anthony Bushell); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger; Warner Home Video; 1949-UK)
“… its uncanny storytelling is ever so eloquent.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s (“A Matter of Life and Death”/”Peeping Tom”) restrained suspense thriller follows on the heels of the complex story line and lavish production of “The Red Shoes.” “The Small Back Room” (released in an atrociously cut to ribbons state as Hour of Glory in the USA) is based on the novel by Nigel Balchin. It’s set in London, 1943, and tells an unusual tale about a brilliant research scientist and military bomb-disposal expert named Sammy Rice (David Farrar), who had his foot blown off in a bomb explosion and because of his artificial tin leg feels less than a man. Filled with pain, self-pity, an irritable nature and nursing a drinking problem, Sammy’s private life is stressful. Even though his sweet workplace secretary girlfriend Susan (Kathleen Byron) accepts him the way he is, he keeps her at a distance thinking he’s not good enough for her. Susan chastises him for feeling sorry for himself and for having lost his guts. Sammy gets his chance to redeem himself when a Captain Stuart (Michael Gough) visits his back room research scientific workplace and asks his advice about a complex new German booby-trapped bomb that’s been dropped from a plane and has killed six people so far who have picked it up (mostly children, since it looks like a toy). Meanwhile at a government meeting of the War Department among the military honchos, a science group and his private research firm, Sammy goes against his immediate boss Professor Mair (Milton Rosmer) and the commercially-minded boss of his firm R.B. Waring (Jack Hawkings) by testifying that their new type of antitank gun meant for the army has defects which require further experimentation. His frank comments do not sit well with his bosses, but the army values his honesty and soon calls him to dismantle a newly found German booby-trapped bomb that killed a civilian and Captain Stuart, who tried dismantling it. The tension mounts when Sammy is at an isolated beach area in Chesil Bank, Dorset, controlled by army personnel, and goes the dismantling process alone. His success brings him inner peace, a reconciliation with his girlfriend and a top position with the army.
Though “The Small Back Room” might not seem to have the most exciting plot line and offered too much gloom to be accepted by a wide audience, the intelligent ideas, the fine noirish photography by Christopher Challis, the superb acting, the outstanding script, and the stunning visualizations all come together to make things work rather well for this minor Powell and Pressburger; its uncanny storytelling is ever so eloquent.
REVIEWED ON 8/17/2006 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ