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Thursday, April 16, 2009

THE SMALL BACK ROOM (1949)

The Archers (the writing-directing-producing team of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger) had more strings on their bow then the fantastic films they are most famous for (A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH/’46, THE RED SHOES/’48, THE TALES OF HOFFMANN/’51) and this largely straight-forward work deserves to be better known. Two stars from their delirious BLACK NARCISSUS/’46 are reunited in a WWII story of a one-legged demolitions expert (David Farrar) and his difficult romance with his boss’s assistant (Kathleen Byron). Oddly, the pic’s one false note comes in a visually extravagant nightmare sequence that finds Farrar fighting off his depression & alcoholic demons via surrealistic clocks and engorged brandy bottles. Instead, the Archers thrive on all the ultra-realistic details of bomb defusing & the bureaucratic battles of office politics in a time of war, wonderfully detailed via a tremendous line up of tasty supporting players (Michael Gough, Cyril Cusack, Jack Hawkins, even an unbilled Robert Morley). The riches in the Powell/Pressburger canon are so deep, there’s no dishonor in a silver medal entry; and Farrar in particular scores heavily in a perf that’s part Walter Pidgeon charm & part James Mason brooding sex appeal.

CONTEST: The Archers were rightly proud of this film and let you know in a most original fashion. Spot the coded bit of secret self-criticism and win our usual prize, a MAKSQUIBS write-up of any NetFlix DVD.

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