February 23, 2017


The Small Back Room – 1949 | 108 mins | Drama, Thriller | B&W


Plot Synopsis

The Small Back Room

Research scientist Sammy Rice suffers agonies with an artificial foot but, to please Susan, he resists the urge to drown the pain in whisky. While assigned to help Captain Stuart make safe a new booby, trap device causing many casualties, he goes against Professor Mair and R.B. Waring who are trying to ‘sell’ an unsuitable new gun to the army. Mair leaves the section, and Susan is furious when Rice hesitates to apply for the job. She walks out, leaving him to drink himself into a stupor. A telephone call arouses him and he heads for Dorset but on arrival learns that Stuart has been killed attempting to defuse one of the devices. With clues supplied by Stuart’s notes, Sammy tackles the second bomb and finally makes it safe, discovering the secret of its mechanism as he does so. Back in London, Sammy, is told by Colonel Holland that a new army unit is to be set up and that he is to be allowed a free hand over staff and operations. Recovering his self confidence, he is reunited with Susan and they return home together.

The Small Back Room was a realistic, atmospheric black and white wartime story. Powell later claimed it as ‘an error of judgement nobody wanted to know about it because the war was over’, customary charges of vulgarity and poor taste levelled at the director. This criticism was reserved exclusively for one sequence – cut from some prints – in which Farrar hallucinates over a whisky bottle as he waits for Susan’s late arrival. The bottle preys on his mind until he is wrestling with both his conscience and, literally, the bottle which has assumed fantastic proportions and finally crushes him. Several reviewers attacked the scene.

Production Team

Michael Powell: Director
Emeric Pressburger: Director
John Hoesli: Art Direction
Anthony Bushell: Associate Producer
Sydney Streeter: Asst Director
George R Busby: Asst Producer
Christopher Challis: Cinematography
Josephine Boss: Costume Design
Clifford Turner: Editing
Dorrie Hamilton: Make-Up Artist
Brian Easdale: Music
Michael Powell: Producer
Emeric Pressburger: Producer
Hein Heckroth: Production Design
Emeric Pressburger: Script
Michael Powell: Script
Alan Allen: Sound
Bill Sweeny: Sound
Cyril Swern: Sound


David Farrar: Sammy Rice
Kathleen Byron: Susan
Jack Hawkins: RB Waring
Leslie Banks: Colonel Holland
Milton Rosmer: Professor Mair
Cyril Cusack: Corporal Taylor
Walter Fitzgerald: Brine
Emrys Jones: Joe
Michael Goodliffe: Till
Henry Caine: Sergeant-Major Rose
Elwyn Brook-Jones: Gladwin
James Dale: Brigadier
Sam Kydd: Crowhurst
Renee Asherson: ATS Corporal
Sid James: Barman
James Carney: Sergeant Graves
Geoffrey Keen: Pinker
Brian Forbes: Dying gunner
Robert Morley: Minister

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