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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Directors: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Producers: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Screenplay: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Based on the novel by: Nigel Balchin
Director of Photography: Christopher Challis
Supervising Editor: Reginald Mills
Production Designer: Hein Heckroth
Incidental Music: Brian Easdale

Michael Gough (Captain Stuart)
Henry Calne (Sergeant-Major Rose)
Milton Rosmer (Professor Mair)
Cyril Cusack (Corporal Taylor)
Kathleen Byron (Susan)
Sidney James (Knucksie)
David Farrar (Sammy Rice)
Leslie Banks (Colonel A. K Holland)
Sam Kydd (Crowhurst)
Emrys Jones (Joe)
Michael Goodliffe (Till)
Jack Hawkins (R.B. Waring)
Geoffrey Keen (Pinker)
June Elvin (Gillian)
David Hutcheson (Norval)
Robert Morley (Minister)
Roddy Hughes (Welsh doctor)
Brian Forbes (Petersen, dying gunner)
Waiter Fitzgerald (Brine)
James Dale (Brigadier)
Elwyn Brook-Jones (Gladwin)
Roderick Lovell (Pearson)
Anthony Bushell (Colonel Strang)
James Carney (Sergeant Groves)
Renée Asherson (ATS corporal)
Michael Powell (Gunnery Officer) *
[Or was he?? - No]

Production Companies: Archers Film Productions,
London Film Productions
Production Company: British Lion Film Corporation *
Assistant Producer: George R. Busby
Associate Producer: Anthony Bushell
Production Assistant: Charles Orme *
Production Secretary: Gwladys Jenks *
Production Department Secretary: Marjorie Mein *
Assistant Director: Sydney S. Streeter
2nd Assistant Director: Archie Knowles *
3rd Assistant Director: Jack Green *
Continuity: Doreen North
Casting: Madeleine Godar *
Camera Operator: Freddie Francis
Focus Puller: Will Lee *
Clapper Loader: John von Kotze *
Stills: Anthony Hopking *
Editor: Clifford Turner
Assistant Cutter: Tom Simpson *
Junior Cutter: Frankie Taylor *
Assistant Editor: Derek Armstrong
Art Director: John Hoesli
Assistant Art Director: lvor Beddoes *
Set Dresser: Dario Simoni *
Chief Draughtsman: Wallis Smith *
Draughtsmen: Ted Clements, Harry Pottle *
Junior Draughtsmen: Pat Sladden, Peter Childs *
Production Buyer: Charles Townsend *
Dress Designer: Josephine Boss
Wardrobe Master: Jack Daimayne *
Wardrobe Assistants: Arthur Skinner, Mav Walding *
Make-up Supervisor: Dorrie Hamilton *
Make-up Assistant: Peter Evans *
Hairdresser: Constance Pyne *
Assistant Hairdresser: Iris Tilley *
Night Club Scene Music:
Ted Heath's Kenny Baker Swing Group, Fred Lewis
Sound: Alan Allen
Sound Maintenance: George Stephenson *
Boom Operator: Peter Butcher *
Assistant Boom Operator: Peter Meyers *
Dubbing: Bill Sweeny
Sound Editor: Cyril Swern *
Publicity: Vivienne Knight *
Publicity Assistant: Jean Osborne *

United Kingdom 1948
106 mins

* Uncredited
Close-up: Kathleen Byron
The Small Back Room

SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away some of the plot.

The incomprehension with which Arthur Rank and his chief executive John Davis received The Red Shoes spelled the end of The Archers' association with Independent Producers. They were not alone in finding the Rank Organisation, for all its resources, an unsympathetic base; and together with Launder and Gilliat, Carol Reed and others, they happily resumed a more 'creative'- if less financially secure - relationship with Alexander Korda's London Films. Korda, meanwhile, was the first and major beneficiary of a newly established government scheme to boost British production in the aftermath of the Anglo-American 'film war'. The National Film Finance Corporation was the brainchild of Harold Wilson, then President of the Board of Trade, [Later to become Prime Minister] and it loaned Korda's British Lion distribution company a total of 3 million. For their first film with Korda, The Archers turned to an unusual novel published during the war, The Small Back Room by Nigel Balchin.

The opening scenes, set in the London blackout of 1943, recalled the atmosphere of a shadowplay of confusion arid subterfuge, but without any of the earlier film's bravado. This is the world of 'back-room boys', where Sammy Rice (David Farrar) is a crippled scientist specialising in artillery and bomb fuses, embittered by his disability, resentful of the politicking between civilian and military bigwigs that surrounds his work - his overbearing boss R.B. Waring (Jack Hawkins) has 'sold' the new Reeves gun to the army before waiting for the test results. Between the two open-air sequences of a gun test near Stonehenge and the dismantling of a new German timebomb on Chesil Beach, Sammy fights a lonely battle against his own self-destructive tendencies, symbolised by recurrent closeups of his painkilling 'dope' and the giant whisky bottle that threatens to overwhelm him in a dream. He moves through a netherworld of darkened laboratories and offices, where daylight is filtered through blinds of a skylight, and speech is fractured by the sound of repair work or feet on the pavement above the subterranean 'back room'. The atmosphere throughout is abrasive and brittle with a latent sexual tension: 'R.B.' makes confident passes at Susan (Kathleen Byron), whose love Sammy can scarcely accept, and one of his technicians, Corporal Taylor (Cyril Cusack), is tortured by the knowledge of his wife's infidelities. But in its gripping final sequence, when Sammy emerges from the shadows into the lonely immensity of Chesil Beach to settle a 'personal matter' with the new German booby-trapped bomb, the film's interior drama expands into a powerful image of redemption.

Sammy, in David Farrar's brooding, psychotic performance, is a prototype anti-hero of a later decade, and the expression of his private hell brilliantly condenses the menace and dislocation of Lang's American films noirs, from The Ministry of Fear to The Big Heat. What it crucially lacked was the romantic appeal of Reed's contemporary noir thriller, The Third Man, also made for Korda and a major international success. Stripped of the exotic trappings that had framed the interior struggle of Black Narcissus, The Small Back Room also struck a very different note from the cosy unanimity of most British war films, long before it became fashionable to challenge such myths, as in, for instance, David Hare's Licking Hitler. The violence and implicit sexuality of the relationship between Sa-mmy and Susan seems equally alien to the genteel naïvete that still dominated British films, apart from the licence granted to such passions in period melodrama.

Ian Christie, Arrows of Desire The Films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (Faber and Faber, 1985)

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Filmographic Services, bfi National Library.
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