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The Small Back Room
The Criterion Collection
review by Zach B.
Running Time: 107 minutes
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
From the novel by: Nigel Balchin
Directed by: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Retail Price: $29.99
Commentary with Film Scholar Charles Barr, Interview with
Cinematographer Chris Challis, Michael Powell Autobiography Audio
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Mono, Chapter Selection (14 Chapters)
Released: August 19th,
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.
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
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.
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.