Saturday, June 27, 2009

THE SMALL BACK ROOM (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1949, UK) Sammy must defuse his own ticking time bomb of alcoholism and drug addiction before his life explodes. He must face a monotonous government bureaucracy that is more concerned with statistics than human lives, full of old men who willingly sacrifice the lives of young soldiers upon the altar of their own overblown egos. Sammy’s scientific team works just beyond this viscid red tape as they attempt to discover and deconstruct a secret Nazi weapon that has already murdered three children. But Sammy’s penultimate battle is with himself, his artificial leg a reminder that he is not fully human, consumed with pain that is only subdued by whiskey and pills: a bottled demon who begins to drink from him. Powell and Pressburger have directed a taught though occasionally slack wartime melodrama imbued with burgeoning tension as Sammy’s life disintegrates into emotional shrapnel. A surrealistic montage dominates his fever-dream as a giant whiskey bottle haunts his delusions like some Lovecraftian horror; unable to resist he succumbs to the liquid succubus and drowns in an epiphany of destructive ecstasy. THE SMALL BACK ROOM is beautifully filmed in black and white that belies the static interior set designs: when the narrative moves outdoors the extraordinary deep focus brings the story to life. Finally, Sammy wakens from his drunken fugue and must immediately travel to a pebble-strewn beach to defuse the Nazi weapon, his good friend already a victim of a previous attempt. The tension is like razor wire as Sammy delicately maneuvers the bomb amid the trickling stones, using every ounce of strength, willpower, and shredded reason to solve this violent enigma. He fights this incendiary conflict within his own psyche whose victory is only assured with a sudden twist of a wrench. Sammy has conquered the enemy…himself. (B-)


Rupert Alistair said...

As a huge fan of BLACK NARCISSUS, I've always wanted to see this, the film that reunites Powell, Pressburger, Farrar and Byron. Good post.


Alex DeLarge said...

Thanks Rupert! I'll be reviewing the blu-ray remaster of RED SHOES shortly.