Thursday, February 11, 2010


While watching this movie, I had a minor epiphany: I think some people are movie buffs and some are film buffs. Movie buffs are people who love movies of all kinds, mostly for sheer entertainment. Film buffs are people who love certain kinds of movies, or who love to think about and study movies. This is a film buff movie which would be perfect for showing to a film class--it has lots going on stylistically, not to mention a plot that has some elements in common with the recent THE HURT LOCKER--but not one I'm sure the average 21st century movie fan would enjoy. In England during WWII, David Farrar (in black at left) is a member of a weapons research group which seems to operate on the fringe of the official military. While the men (called "the back room boys" for their cramped quarters) are helping to evaluate a new kind of gun, they are also attempting to figure out what's going on with a new German booby-trap bomb which falls to earth in one piece, but later explodes when touched, killing mostly civilians and children. Farrar is in danger of becoming an alcoholic wreck, mostly due to his inability to come to terms with his war wound, a blown-off foot which has been replaced with an artificial one, and that is messing up his relationship with his live-in lover (Kathleen Byron) who is also a secretary where he works. His work and love lives go careening off the tracks until he thinks he can find redemption by cracking the secret of the German bomb, even though another "back room boy" has already been killed trying.

This Michael Powell film is beautifully photographed in a mix of styles: a lot of film noir angles and lighting, mostly naturalistic shooting in outdoor scenes, and a strange and not completely successful nightmare sequence right out of Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND. The bomb plot and the romance plot play out like two separate strands for most of the film's running time, though even when the narrative bogs down a bit, there is always something interesting going on visually. Farrar, the hunk who drives the nuns crazy in BLACK NARCISSUS, and Byron (who was one of those nuns) are excellent, and there is good support from a young Cyril Cusack (as a stuttering researcher), Leslie Banks, Jack Hawkins, and Michael Gough. Overall, the film feels very modern with its slow, deliberate pace, attention to everyday details, and the prizing of character before action. [DVD]

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