The Hurt Locker won big on Oscar Sunday, but it’s not the first film to have successfully mined the moviemaking potential of bomb disposal. The excellent The Small Back Room, by British directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, managed to get in on the defusing drama back in 1949.
Set in London in 1943, the film follows the charming Sammy Rice (David Farrar), a bomb disposal expert who lost his foot on the job. Plagued by the pain of his missing appendage, the politics of his office and the emergence of mysterious German booby traps that detonate when handled, Sammy vacillates between stern perseverance and the dulling effects of whisky and drugs. Meanwhile, the odd combination of revelry and danger in blackout London plays out onscreen in beautiful and moody gray tones. The film ends with a fantastically shot, 17-minute bomb-defusing climax—a masterpiece of suspenseful moviemaking and almost certainly an inspiration for the makers of 2009’s Best Picture winner.
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