The Small Back Room

Criterion's fealty to filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, collectively known as the Archers, seems to know no bounds, as the release of minor postwar effort "The Small Back Room," wrapped in a deluxe edition, suggests.

With:
Cast: David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Jack Hawkins, Michael Gough, Cyril Cusack

Criterion’s fealty to filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, collectively known as the Archers, seems to know no bounds, as the release of minor postwar effort “The Small Back Room” wrapped in a deluxe edition suggests.

Pic itself — from 1949 but looking newly minted in Criterion’s typically luminous transfer — has limited appeal, to Anglophiles mostly and Archers obsessives, of which there are many. For those of a mind, though, it provides a detailed look into some of the least glamorous aspects of the British war effort during WWII, with focus — in this case quite detailed thanks to Christopher Challis’ pinpoint b&w lensing — on half-military, half-civilian bureaucracy dedicated to studying arms and explosives.

Human element arrives via the maturely limned romance between David Farrar’s Sammy Rice, a brilliant but crippled scientist with a serious drinking problem, and Kathleen Byron’s Susan, the too-accepting ministry functionary who loves him.

But their earnest mutual sacrifices are appealingly leavened by captivating supporting perfs from such U.K. cinema stalwarts as Jack Hawkins (delightfully unctuous as Susan’s amoral boss), Cyril Cusack (as a stuttering, cuckolded boffin) and Robert Morley (in an uncredited cameo as a buffoonish government minister).

Pic’s best moments are two brilliantly shot scenes: the first, Sammy’s climactic battle with the bottle; the second, his attempt to diffuse a bomb on a pebbled — and thus unstable — beach. The earlier scene, full of Expressionistic touches, owes much to two pics produced four years earlier: Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” and Billy Wilder’s “The Lost Weekend,” yet it holds its own as an imaginative depiction of a man wrestling inner demons.

Highlights here are the extras, including an erudite commentary by scholar Charles Barr and several extended audio excerpts from the tapes Powell used to compile his second autobiography, “Million Dollar Movie.” But the clincher is a new 20-minute video interview with eminent lenser Challis, now nearly 90 years old. His reminiscences — mostly about Powell, Pressburger and this film, but touching on Wilder and others — provide illuminating details regarding a fascinating period in British, and indeed world, cinema.

Running time: 107 min.

The Small Back Room

$39.99; Release date: August 19, 2008

Production: Criterion Collection

Cast: Cast: David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Jack Hawkins, Michael Gough, Cyril Cusack

More Digital

  • trt world

    How Turkey’s TRT World Wants to Win Over U.S. Online Video Viewers (EXCLUSIVE)

    Criterion’s fealty to filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, collectively known as the Archers, seems to know no bounds, as the release of minor postwar effort “The Small Back Room” wrapped in a deluxe edition suggests. Pic itself — from 1949 but looking newly minted in Criterion’s typically luminous transfer — has limited appeal, to […]

  • CaptainSparkelz - Pocket.watch

    YouTube Creators CaptainSparklez, EvanTube Sign With Kid-Media Startup Pocket.watch

    Criterion’s fealty to filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, collectively known as the Archers, seems to know no bounds, as the release of minor postwar effort “The Small Back Room” wrapped in a deluxe edition suggests. Pic itself — from 1949 but looking newly minted in Criterion’s typically luminous transfer — has limited appeal, to […]

  • Peter Thiel

    Billionaire Peter Thiel Sells Majority of Facebook Stake, Pocketing $29 Million

    Criterion’s fealty to filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, collectively known as the Archers, seems to know no bounds, as the release of minor postwar effort “The Small Back Room” wrapped in a deluxe edition suggests. Pic itself — from 1949 but looking newly minted in Criterion’s typically luminous transfer — has limited appeal, to […]

  • Facebook

    Unsure if You Fell For Russia's Fake News? Facebook Will Tell You Soon

    Criterion’s fealty to filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, collectively known as the Archers, seems to know no bounds, as the release of minor postwar effort “The Small Back Room” wrapped in a deluxe edition suggests. Pic itself — from 1949 but looking newly minted in Criterion’s typically luminous transfer — has limited appeal, to […]

  • New Media old media shakeup

    Murdoch Sale Talks Underscore Digital's Effect in Disrupting Hollywood

    Criterion’s fealty to filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, collectively known as the Archers, seems to know no bounds, as the release of minor postwar effort “The Small Back Room” wrapped in a deluxe edition suggests. Pic itself — from 1949 but looking newly minted in Criterion’s typically luminous transfer — has limited appeal, to […]

  • Mosaic app

    Steven Soderbergh's 'Mosaic' App Is Now Available on Android

    Criterion’s fealty to filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, collectively known as the Archers, seems to know no bounds, as the release of minor postwar effort “The Small Back Room” wrapped in a deluxe edition suggests. Pic itself — from 1949 but looking newly minted in Criterion’s typically luminous transfer — has limited appeal, to […]

  • John Oliver Net Neutrality

    What the Repeal of Net Neutrality Will Mean for Hollywood

    Criterion’s fealty to filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, collectively known as the Archers, seems to know no bounds, as the release of minor postwar effort “The Small Back Room” wrapped in a deluxe edition suggests. Pic itself — from 1949 but looking newly minted in Criterion’s typically luminous transfer — has limited appeal, to […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content