Still coming down after The Small Back Room (1949)...
Odd because the acting was more traditional, but piercing because it offered some insight into what I wrote earlier, although I think I will ignore that entirely. Immediately I thought this served as a great parallel and counter-point to Gone to Earth (1950). The Small Back Room is darker in tone but lighter in principle while Gone to Earth is just the opposite, both offering startling moments.
The opening scenes of The Small Back Room had me thinking this would be a film of action, something like 49th Parallel (1941) or One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942), where personal drama is entirely forgotten under pressure of danger, the "Here we are; What do we do now?" situation. But it quickly becomes personal drama. Adult personal drama. Something along mainstream lines... yet still unmistakably P+P.
I began thinking about acting the way I usually think about it: as a minor part of an integral whole. How could I have tried to convince myself differently? Actors only have as much power as you give them, and perhaps this is what impresses me about Powell's direction and Pressburger's writing. Impressive not in that they abuse their power but that the actors do not need it. Usually. The Small Back Room gives a surprising amount of power to the actors, let's Farrar be dark and moody, but their is still that touch of Powell I have to address.
It's in screen psychology. Rather than giving characters monologues and emotional explosions, their psychology is expressed in the cinematic universe around them. In the obvious, it is the expressionistic sequence in which Rice is tortured by the bottle and clock. More subtly, it is the way we see Rice leave the key in the lock or hear his reactions through the voice of a nervous secretary operating the wire. It is this that keeps much of a character's psychology internal, this that allows for stoicism.
If The Small Back Room is so grown-up, perhaps it is because of the acting. Not that the story or characters by themselves are mature, but that the filmmakers take so mature an approach to the material. No, the actors have no power, but they are needed.