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“You Know the Matter with You, Noxie? You’re too soft.”

September 15, 2008

THE SMALL BACK ROOM
d. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

From the familiar opening of the Production of the Archers logo to the closing credits, this film is on a confident track with amazing performances and storytelling. The movie, set in London 1943, tells the story of an explosives expert overcoming his inner demons (alcoholism, a missing leg) in order to prove his worth and potency.

Sammy, played by David Farrar (Black Narcissus), is wounded both physically and mentally; he is aided in his struggle by Susan (played by the gorgeous Kathleen Byron (also from Black Narcissus)) who supports him despite his self-loathing and lashing out. If anything the movie is all about Sammy defusing bombs, literal and metaphorical, in his life.

Stand-out scenes include the test-firing of a howitzer, The Reeves Gun, at Stone Henge (they would never be able to shoot such a scene nowadays); a totally bananas alcohol-craving induced hallucination where Sammy is literally cornered by a giant bottle of Highlander whiskey; a tense bar scene where Sammy, off the wagon, calls out the bartender (with the above quote) while shoving glasses off the counter, and the even more tense final scene where Sammy has to keep his wits while defusing a bomb.

What’s lovely to behold are the period costumes of English military dress and hairstyles of the 40s. Everyone looks amazing. If there were anything wrong with this film is that despite it taking place in 1943, practically the peak of the war where Germany is bombing hell out of England, there is little sense of this danger or urgency dramatized. As the title suggests, it all seems to take place in a small back room corner of the war, where the drama is no less urgent or tense.

Overall, an excellent film in the Powell & Pressburger filmography. Up there with The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus. I definitely will be adding more of their films to my Netflix queue.

Next up I should have either I, Madman with Jenny Wright (Near Dark, The Wall), or the Russian films, Nightwatch and Daywatch.

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