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The Small Back Room Reviews

Reviewed By: Lucia Bozzola

In this change of pace after The Red Shoes (1948), Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger examined the bureaucratic and personal frustrations of a crippled munitions expert during World War II. Powell's gritty black-and-white realism is tinged with expressionistic flourishes, particularly in a fantasy about a menacing whiskey bottle that reveals the alcoholic Sammy's distress as he grapples with feelings of inadequacy and reservations about romantic bonds. His chance to dismantle a new kind of explosive becomes his possible redemption; the 17-minute sequence of his painstaking efforts to defuse a bomb precariously embedded in a pebbly Dorset beach is a triumph of visual story-telling and excruciating suspense. Despite a positive critical response and excellent performances from David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, and Cyril Cusack, The Small Back Room was a box office flop. Over 20 minutes were cut for TV prints; and it was released in the U.S. in 1952 as Hour of Glory.