Cast & Crew
The best bomb disposal officer during World War II was badly injured and is in frequent pain. He finds solace and relief from his pain in the whisky bottle & the pills that are never far away. A new type of booby trapped bomb push his nerves & resolution to the limit.
Hour of Glory
Based on a novel by Nigel Balchin, The Small Back Room (retitled Hour of Glory in the U.S.) is wartime drama about a bitter scientist battling self-pity (he has a "tin foot," which he noisily knocks when it aches), alcoholism, and a disgust for the way his boss is pushing a new artillery gun on the military that is far from ready. He's one of the "back room boys," part of a special weapons research unit out of the public eye, and as he struggles with his eroding sense of self-worth, he's called upon by the military to help them combat insidious explosive devices dropped from German bombers that have already killed three children.
For the roles of Sammy Rice, the handsome but self-loathing scientist, and his lover Susan, who is also the secretary of his boss, they cast David Farrar and Kathleen Byron, both stars of the earlier Black Narcissus (1947). The two suggest an intimacy that the film can't directly acknowledge. Jack Hawkins, a respected stage actor on his way to becoming a major British movie star, was cast as Sammy's glad-handing boss, a charismatic, forceful salesman to Sammy's serious man of science, Michael Gough (who went on to play Alfred the Butler in four Batman films) is the British officer who recruits Sammy to help him with the booby-trapped bombs, and Cyril Cusack made his first of many appearances as an Archers regular as the stuttering fuse expert. The stutter was Cusack's idea, which Powell immediately embraced, along with the actor himself. Future director Bryan Forbes made his screen debut as a soldier mortally wounded by one of the insidious bombs.
Though they shared billing on screen, Powell and Pressburger divided their duties: Powell was the director, Pressburger the screenwriter, and they shared producing duties. Powell directs in a more realistic style than films like Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, creating a wartime London drenched in shadows with crowded nightclubs, and cramped apartments: A World War II noir where the enemy is within. But his use of distinctive locations (a gun test set against the backdrop of Stonehenge, for instance) gives the film a visual dynamism, and for one sequence he delves into overtly expressionist images to suggest the psychological state of Sammy as he waits for Susan to return. As the clock ticks and his mind drifts to the unopened bottle of whisky on the table--kept in plain sight to remind himself of his weakness--the rest of the room falls away as both the clock and the bottle become larger and larger, eventually dwarfing him on the screen as the ticking takes over the soundtrack. The effects were created entirely on the set, with props and models constructed by Hein Heckroth and slashes of theatrical lighting devised by cinematographer Christopher Challis to accentuate and isolate details. For some effects, Challis used a split screen to create even greater contrasts. It's a striking and imaginative sequence that ranks with Salvador Dali's work on Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) as a creative approach to visualizing interior struggles.
For the climax, where Sammy is called to defuse one of the German booby traps found intact on a beach, Powell takes a far more realistic approach, creating tension through crisp cutting and composition. "I think that was one of the most marvelous sequences ever," remarked cinematographer Christopher Challis in an interview years later. "Now that was entirely Micky [Michael Powell] - the idea of getting closer and closer as the sequence became more tense until you ended up with just fingernails and eyes and bits of bomb screws." In the novel, the scene played out on a familiar sandy beach but Powell saw the dramatic possibilities of the pebble beach at Chesil Bank, as he wrote in his autobiography: "I saw at once the great curve of the Chesil Bank, the waves listlessly breaking on the beach and grinding the pebbles as the undertow retreated, the sinister shape of the bomb, upright in the pebbles like a giant Thermos flask, the bank itself, where every footstep sent a thousand pebbles rolling." It adds a volatile dimension to an already tense situation.
The film was well reviewed (News of the World called it "Magnificent picture making") but poorly attended, which Powell attributed to the public's exhaustion with the war. "The setting was wartime London and everyone had had enough of that, which I might have suspected had I not been such a fervent admirer of Nigel's book." Powell's more vivacious and flamboyant--emotionally and visually--films are more famous than the intimate and intense The Small Back Room but it remains a powerful drama and a provocative mix of war drama and film noir.
Arrows of Desire, Ian Christie. Faber and Faber, 1994.
"On The Small Back Room," Raymond Durgnat. Powell, Pressburger and Others, ed. Ian Christie, BFI, 1978.
Michael Powell, James Howard. Butler and Tanner, 1996.
Million Dollar Movie, Michael Powell. Random House, 1992.
By Sean Axmaker
Hour of Glory
Wouldn't it be silly to break up something we both like doing, only because you think I don't like it.- Susan
Yes, you've got it all worked out in the way women always have. They don't worry about anything except being alive or dead.- Sammy Rice
I must have a drink. Ask me to have a drink woman.- Sammy Rice
Have a drink Sammy.- Susan
Whisky?- Sammy Rice
No thanks Susan.- Sammy Rice
Where were you going Sammy?- Susan
I don't know.- Sammy Rice
A woman?- Susan
Maybe.- Sammy Rice
How about me?- Susan