The Small Back Room

The Small Back Room
(Hour of Glory)

DVD cover
Directed by Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Produced by Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Written by Nigel Balchin (novel)
Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Starring David Farrar
Kathleen Byron
Music by Brian Easdale
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Edited by Clifford Turner
Distributed by British Lion Films
Release dates
21 February 1949 (UK)
1 February 1952 (NYC)
23 February (US gen.)
Running time
106 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office £129,732 (UK)[1]

The Small Back Room (1949) is a film by the British producer-writer-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger starring David Farrar and Kathleen Byron and featuring Jack Hawkins and Cyril Cusack. It was based on the novel of the same name by Nigel Balchin. In the United States, the film was released as Hour of Glory.


Sammy Rice (David Farrar) is a British scientist working with a specialist "back room" team in London during the Second World War. Rice is embittered because he feels military scientific research is being incompetently managed. He is also enduring unremitting pain from his artificial foot. The painkillers he has been prescribed are ineffective, and his use of alcohol as an analgesic has led to his alcoholism. His girlfriend Susan (Kathleen Byron) puts up with his self-pitying, self-destructive behavior as long as she can, but finally breaks up with him, telling him that he lacks the ambition to better himself.

Rice is brought in by Captain Stuart (Michael Gough) to help solve the problem of small booby-trapped explosive devices (mines) being dropped by Nazi bombers, which have killed four people, including three children. They receive some useful information from a critically wounded young soldier (Bryan Forbes in his debut). Two further mines are found at Chesil Beach: they look like common thermos flasks. Stuart is first on the scene but has difficulty getting Rice on the telephone in his flat because Rice is alone following his breakup, angry, drunk and destructive. Rice quickly sobers up, and travels to Chesil Beach only to find that Stuart tried to defuse one of the mines and has been blown up. Rice sets to work on the second mine after listening to the notes Stuart dictated to an ATS corporal (Renée Asherson) during his effort earlier in the day. He discovers that the mine has two booby traps, not one, and manages to defuse them both, after which the engineers steam-out the explosive charge, thereby rendering the mine safe, and intact and suitable for scientific examination, and development of countermeasures ("Rendering Mines Safe", actually a Royal Navy function at that time).

When Rice returns to London, his self-esteem somewhat restored by his success, he is offered an officer commission as of head of the Army's new scientific research unit. He accepts. Susan returns to him and they return to his flat to find Susan has repaired everything he damaged while drunk.



The Small Back Room marked the return of Powell and Pressburger to Alexander Korda after a profitable but somewhat contentious time at The Rank Organisation. The film was shot at a number of studios: Denham Film Studios in Buckinghamshire; Worton Hall Studios in Isleworth, Middlesex; and Shepperton Studios in Shepperton, Surrey. Location shooting took place at Chesil Bank and St. Catherine's Chapel in Dorset; Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain; and on the Victoria Embankment in London.[4]

In his autobiography, A Life in Movies, Michael Powell acknowledged the influence of German expressionist films such as Nosferatu in leading him towards making films such as The Red Shoes, Tales of Hoffman and The Small Back Room.[5]

Critical reception

The review for Variety said that although the film lacked "the production tricks usually associated with [Powell and Pressburger]" it was nevertheless "a craftsmanlike job". It praised the performance of David Farrar as "his best role", and lauded the careful casting of the "lesser roles."[6]

The Small Back Room was nominated for a 1950 BAFTA Award as "Best British Film".[7]


The Region 2 DVD was released in May 2004 by Studio Canal / Warner Home Video. In Region 1, The Criterion Collection released the film in August 2008. The release included an essay, an interview with cinematographer Christopher Challis, an audio commentary and excerpts from Michael Powell's audio dictations for his autobiography.


  1. Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000
  2. Bryan Forbes at the Internet Movie Database
  3. Ted Heath at the Internet Movie Database
  4. IMDB Filming locations
  5. Powell, Michael (1986) A Life in Movies New York: Knopf. p.158. ISBN 0394559355
  6. Staff (January 26, 1949) "Film Reviews: The Small Back Room" Variety p.22
  7. Film in 1950 BAFTA

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