The Small Back Room

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The Small Back Room
(Hour of Glory)
Small Back Room dvd.jpg
DVD cover
Directed by Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Produced by Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Written by Nigel Balchin (novel)
Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Starring David Farrar
Kathleen Byron
Music by Brian Easdale
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Edited by Clifford Turner
Distributed by British Lion Films
Release dates 21 February 1949 (UK)
1 February 1952 (NYC)
23 February (US gen.)
Running time 106 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office £129,732 (UK)[1]

The Small Back Room (1949) is a film by the British producer-writer-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger starring David Farrar and Kathleen Byron and featuring Jack Hawkins and Cyril Cusack. It was based on the novel of the same name by Nigel Balchin. In the United States, the film was released as Hour of Glory.

Plot[edit]

Sammy Rice (David Farrar) is a British scientist working with a specialist "back room" team in London during World War II. Rice is embittered because he feels military scientific research is being incompetently managed. He is also enduring unremitting pain from his artificial foot. The painkillers he has been prescribed are ineffective, and his use of alcohol as an analgesic has led to his alcoholism. His girlfriend Susan (Kathleen Byron) puts up with his self-pitying, self-destructive behaviour as long as she can, but finally breaks up with him, telling him that he lacks the ambition to better himself.

Rice is brought in by Captain Stuart (Michael Gough) to help solve the problem of small booby-trapped explosive devices being dropped by Nazi bombers, which have killed four people, including three children. They receive some useful information from a critically wounded young soldier (Bryan Forbes in his debut). Two further bombs are found at Chesil Beach: they look like thermos flasks. Stuart is first on the scene but has difficulty getting Rice on the telephone in his flat because Rice is angry, drunk and destructive (Susan has left him, taking with her their pet cat). Rice quickly sobers up, but despite his advice to wait for him, Stuart goes ahead by himself and is blown up. Rice arrives later that day and sets to work on the second bomb after listening to the transcription taken by an ATS corporal (Renée Asherson). He discovers that the device has two booby traps, not one, and manages to defuse them both.

When Rice returns to London, his self-esteem somewhat restored by his success, he is offered the position of head of the Army's new research unit. He accepts. Susan returns to him and they go back to his once wrecked flat to find everything has been restored.

Cast[edit]

Production and reception[edit]

The Small Back Room marked the return of Powell and Pressburger to Alexander Korda after a profitable but somewhat contentious time at The Rank Organisation. The film was shot at a number of studios: Denham Film Studios in Buckinghamshire; Worton Hall Studios in Isleworth, Middlesex; and Shepperton Studios in Shepperton, Surrey. Location shooting took place at Chesil Bank and St. Catherine's Chapel in Dorset; Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain; and on the Victoria Embankment in London.[4]

The Small Back Room was nominated for a 1950 BAFTA Award as "Best British Film".[5]

DVD[edit]

The Region 2 DVD was released in May 2004 by Studio Canal / Warner Home Video. In Region 1, The Criterion Collection released the film in August 2008. The release included an essay, an interview with cinematographer Christopher Challis, an audio commentary and excerpts from Michael Powell's audio dictations for his autobiography.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000
  2. ^ Bryan Forbes at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Ted Heath at the Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ IMDB Filming locations
  5. ^ IMDB Awards

External links[edit]