The Small Back Room
aka, HOUR OF GLORY. 1949
Director: Michael Powell
& Emeric Pressburger

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The Small Back Room London, 1943, a young soldier, Captain Dick Stuart (Michael Gough), has a meeting with Professor Mair (Milton Rosmer).

We're entering an introspective black & white film, The Small Back Room (1949), based on a novel by Nigel Balchin, & shown in the United States as Hour of Glory.

Stuart is bringing top secret information, needing an expert opinion regarding Hitler's suspected secret weapon.

The "secret" is the Germans have been deploying booby traps designed to appeal to children. So far there has not been one intact example discovered, but the trap-bombs have already killed three children.

People may have failed at the time to care what was happening to Jews, but if those damned Krauts were killing either puppies or small children, then gung-ho the war against them had to have been a just one.

The Small Back RoomSammy Rice (David Farrar) is an angry man with an artificial foot, considerable pain in his leg, & a drinking problem.

He nevertheless is the explosives expert who may be needed to disarm these child-targetting bombs, if he can keep his hands steady.

Sammy works in the self-same Small Back Room as a weapons designer. His boss R. B. Waring (Jack Hawkins) is a wartime profiteer who doesn't much care if the quality is up to snuff, just so long as he can get the contracts for more weapons. But Sammy only wants to release what's most effective in the field.

The small back room is where new weapons designing takes place. It's where, inevitably, important decisions that can influence the outcome of the war are made. Sammy's being pressured to give the A-okay to weapons he's not convinced are safe for the soldiers who'd use them.

The Small Back RoomHe's emotionally involved with Susan (Kathleen Byron), a young secretary in the company.

She lives across the hall from him in his apartment building. It's hard to grab moments for themselves, under the weight of responsibilities.

We see the day to day lives of ordinary men trying, & sometimes not trying, to do their part in the war effort.

Though regarded by some as a minor classic, The Small Back Room is startlingly dull, though sometimes it's only message is that even in times of struggle, people need to have other meanings in their life.

As a war-justifying film of the immediate post-war period, the hero's depression & alcoholism is something that probably could not have been part of the story if the war were still on.

The Small Back RoomIndeed, Sammy reflects more the ennui, horror, & shattered emotions such as became a phenomenon among actual veterans coming home after the war, unable to readjust.

So the film is somewhat unique in giving not only a "common man" with a regular job as hero, but one who is extremely flawed in something other than a film noir context. Sammy isn't a cinematic exaggeration so much as he really is "just a man."

Unfortunately, the only time the film comes to life & transcends its war-justifying intent is when we're treated to an incredible hallucinatory sequence to an eerie theramon soundtrack.

A bottle of booze haunts Sammy, becoming an inescapable monster of enormous size. It's quite the moment of horror, & more in keeping with what director Michael Powell achieved in The Red Shoes (1948), Stairway to Heaven (1946) or Peeping Tom (1960).

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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