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The Small Back Room
The Criterion Collection

review by Zach B.



Not Rated

Running Time: 107 minutes

Starring: Michael Gough, Henry Caine, Milton Rosmer, Cyril Cusack, Kathleen Byron, Sidney James, David Farrar, Leslie Banks, Sam Kydd, Emrys Jones, Michael Goodliffe, Jack Hawkins, Geoffrey Keen, June Elvin, David Hutcheson

From the novel by: Nigel Balchin

Directed by: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger


Studio: Criterion

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Film Scholar Charles Barr, Interview with Cinematographer Chris Challis, Michael Powell Autobiography Audio Excerpts

Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Mono, Chapter Selection (14 Chapters)

Released: August 19th, 2008



"The Small Back Room" is presented in 1.33:1 full screen (with slight windowboxing), and has been given a restoration. It is a pretty strong transfer given the source material used and its age, but far from perfect. Debris, scratches and all sorts of blemishes are present throughout the film, but not in an abundance. Flickering occurs, and there is some slight noise to be had at times. Shimmering occurs, and at times the image quality can be a bit soft. Still, even with all that, this transfer is really quite watchable. For the most part, the transfer is on the clean side - and the fine black-and-white cinematography certainly stands out. Flawed, but not entirely disappointing. Far from it, actually.


An English Mono track is included, which has also been restored. It's a very audible track, one that is quite firm and has a good sonic standing. The track certainly seems like it was cleaned up, as the overall audio is far from muffled and I did not really detect much in way of hiss, pops or any other sort of noisy distortions. Dialogue is rather clear, the music sounds fine and the sounds effects are nicely crisp for the most part. A solid job, overall.


Included is an Audio Commentary with Film Scholar Charles Barr. It's a well-rounded commentary without gaps that gives further insight into the film and its production: how Powell and Pressburger shaped the narrative and its themes, the cast, the music, the original novel and more. It is a bit on the dry side (as it does often sound like Barr is reading), but certainly a worthy listen for those who want to explore the film further.

Taped just for this Criterion Collection edition is an Interview with Chris Challis,  the film's cinematographer. Challis, a long time collaborator of Powell and Pressburger, talks about his initial involvement with the filmmakers and his work with them. Challis has a wide array of excellent stories from the key productions he worked on, and is remarkably candid, especially when it comes to Powell and his way of working. Highlighting his thoughts are plenty of stills and film clips. This lasts 21 minutes, and is in anamorphic widescreen to boot. A great and intriguing watch for fans of cinema.

There is also Michael Powell Autobiography Audio Excerpts, taken from dictations of his second autobiography, "Million Dollar Movie." There are seven excerpts that discuss the making of "The Small Back Room," where he goes into author NIgel Balchin, the cast, a deleted scene and more. There is 48 minutes worth of listening here, and if you enjoyed the film, then you are sure to appreciate these comments.

And of course, the included booklet features an essay. Discussing the film is author Nick James, and his take on Powell and Pressburger make this a must read.


"The Small Back Room" is yet another inspired choice to get The Criterion Collection treatment, and this edition does not disappoint. The film's restoration is more than adaquete, but what makes this a disc to truly savor are the fantastic supplements that really dive into the film's thematics, production and background. This thoughtful, classy release is highly recommended.