The Small Back Room
|The Small Back Room
(Hour of Glory)
|Directed by||Michael Powell
|Produced by||Michael Powell
|Written by||Nigel Balchin (novel)
|Music by||Brian Easdale|
|Edited by||Clifford Turner|
|Distributed by||British Lion Films|
|21 February 1949 (UK)
1 February 1952 (NYC)
23 February (US gen.)
|Box office||£129,732 (UK)|
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.
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 (mines) 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 mines are found at Chesil Beach: they look like common thermos flasks. Stuart is first on the scene but has difficulty getting Rice on the telephone in his flat because Rice is alone following his breakup, angry, drunk and destructive. Rice quickly sobers up, and travels to Chesil Beach only to find that Stuart has tried to defuse one of the mines and has been blown up. Rice sets to work on the second mine after listening to the notes Stuart dictated to an ATS corporal (Renée Asherson) during his effort earlier in the day. He discovers that the mine has two booby traps, not one, and manages to defuse them both, after which the engineers steam-out the explosive charge, thereby rendering the mine intact and safe, and suitable for scientific examination, and development of countermeasures ("Rendering Mines Safe", actually a Royal Navy function at that time).
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 return to his flat to find Susan has repaired everything Rice had damaged when drunk.
- David Farrar as Sammy Rice
- Kathleen Byron as Susan
- Jack Hawkins as R.B. Waring
- Leslie Banks as Colonel A.K. Holland
- Michael Gough as Captain Dick Stuart
- Cyril Cusack as Corporal Taylor
- Milton Rosmer as Professor Mair
- Walter Fitzgerald as Brine
- Emrys Jones as Joe
- Michael Goodliffe as Till
- Renée Asherson as A.T.S. corporal
- Anthony Bushell as Colonel Strang (Royal Engineers OC)
- Henry Caine as Sergeant Major Rose
- Elwyn Brook-Jones as Gladwin
- Sid James as 'Knucksie' Moran, barkeeper and ex-boxer
- Geoffrey Keen as Pinker
- Robert Morley as the government minister, billed as "A Guest"
- Bryan Forbes, Peterson, the dying gunner.
- Bandleader Ted Heath appears, uncredited, as a bandleader.
- Patrick Macnee as a committee member (uncredited)
Production and reception
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.
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.
- The Small Back Room at the Internet Movie Database
- The Small Back Room at the TCM Movie Database
- The Small Back Room at AllMovie
- The Small Back Room at the British Film Institute's Screenonline. Full synopsis and film stills (and clips viewable from UK libraries).
- The Small Back Room reviews and articles at the Powell & Pressburger Pages