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United Kingdom 1949
Directed by
Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger
108 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Small Back Room

Powell and Pressburger's quintessentially English mannerisms often approach the self-parodic, as if only a few stops more and we might be in Goon Show territory, and The Small Back Room is a case in point. In this film, which followed on immediately after P & P's great success with The Red Shoes, they recount the activities of a damn fine bunch of chaps who sacrifice all to show the Gerry a thing or two about winning a war.

Sporting a cast of familiar faces, what saves this from being simply another British post-war rally'-'round-the-flag-boys propaganda film is of course the directors' penchant for baroque excess. This comes principally in the form of David Farrar's character, a dipsomaniacal bomb expert with a tin leg, and reaches its apogee in a delirium tremens sequence that recalls The Lost Weekend (1946). Farrar is no Ray Milland however and dramatically his performance fails to convince. His co-star Kathleen Byron(who would be named as co-respondent in Powell's upcoming divorce) deals better with her more straightforward role as the typically steadfast girlfriend (they had previously appeared together in the very different Black Narcissus, 1947). Equally, the climactic bomb de-fusing scene set on Chesil Bank with Farrar tackling a supposedly sensitive bomb with a couple of plumber's wrenches and what looks like laboratory clamps, perched precariously on the shingle beach, stretches credulity.

In fact very little of the film coheres in detail but taken as a whole the sweep of P & P's vision well-aided by Christopher Challis's fine black and white photography carries it along whilst for good measure there are a couple of prominent jazz club scenes with music provided by Ted Heath's Kenny Baker Swing Band with Fred Lewis.




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