Sammy Rice is a crippled scientist specializing in artillery and bomb fuses, embittered by his disability and resentful of the politicking between civilian and military big-wigs that surrounds his work. Not only that, but his overbearing boss R.B. Waring makes confident passes at Susan, with whom Sammy is in love. Sammy's obsessive quest to understand a new German bomb is intertwined with his tortured love for Susan.
Sammy, in David Farrar's brooding psychotic performance, is a prototype anti-hero of a later decade, and the expression of his private hell brilliantly condenses the menance and dislocation of Lang's American ’films noirs', from The Ministry of Fear (1944) to The Big Heat (1953). What it crucially lacked was the romantic appeal of Reed's contemporary thriller The Third Man (1949), also made for Korda and a major international success. The Small Back Room also struck a different note from the cosy unanimity of most British war films, long before it became fashionable to challenge such myths, as in, for instance, David Hare's Licking Hitler.
Ian Christie (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger: Arrows of Desire)