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From the jaunty opening scenes to the thrilling ending, you could be
forgiven for thinking 'Cottage To Let' was made during the post war
period. But this film was released in 1941, when the outcome of the war
was still in the balance.
The cast reflects the wealth of talent available in the British Film Industry at this time and for two decades onwards. Not a false note is struck: Jeannie De Casalis makes me laugh out loud playing the dotty wife (check out her introduction speech for John Mills at the fête). Leslie Banks turns in a precise low key performance. He is an antidote to all the eccentric and unbalanced scientists that were/are the staple of cinema-land. Michael Wilding is urbane and, in his scenes, a good foil for a crumpled Alistair Sim, or the intense and faintly menacing John Mills.
Sim, of course, had managed to get his protégé George Cole the part of Ronald. Cole had (I think) already played this role on the stage, but took to the sound stage like a fish to water. He moved and acted as if born to boom and camera. In an idle moment compare young George as Ronald with middle-aged George as Arthur Daley in TV's Minder. It's all there: the sideway looks, aggrieved voice, controlled energy, sheer believable and likable personality.
The film scores on all points for me. The script is realistic and economical, the supporting cast firmly wedded into the few sub-plots. Even the sets, one or two seem to have migrated from other films, are splendid and evocative. And the final denouement is probably one of the most menacing in wartime film, if not the wettest.
A wartime evacuee from London arrives in a small Scottish village to stay in
Mrs Barrington's cottage. However the arrival of a wounded Spitfire pilot
and a mysterious bald gentleman means the boy must stay in the Barrington's
house. At the house Mr Barrington and his assistant are working on a
top-secret new bombsight to help the war effort. Ronald begins to notice
strange behaviour in the village and gradually uncovers a plot to steal the
bomb sight when it is developed.
This is a typically jaunty British wartime adventure which contains some gentle laughs and a quite good `who-done-it' style plot. Our eyes come in the form of cockney scamp Ronald as he notices some strange going on. The film manages to keep the mystery going by giving each character shadowy motives - we're not sure if they are a spy, a policeman, a rogue after the ladies, a scorned lover or what - but they all seem to have something going on. This makes it more enjoyable that it sounds and it isn't until the final 20 minutes when it all starts to come together. The famous cast makes it enjoyable - surely none of them could be the spy!?
George Cole shows his lifetime career in a good performance as a cheeky cockney scamp. Mills enjoys himself in his usual war hero role. Leslie Banks plays it straight as the inventor Mr Barrington, while Alistair Sim has the most fun in his shadowy role (he would later work with Cole as an adult on the St Trinians series). The only other role that stands out is De Casalis as the dippy Mrs Barrington, she gives plenty of gentle laughs.
Overall a gentle wartime adventure that has plenty of mystery and nice touches to keep you interested.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Wordy? A little. But this British home-front spy mystery from 1941 is
also fine entertainment, reasonably exciting and features two
first-rate performances by Alastair Sim as the suspicious Charles
Dimble and 16-year-old George Cole as the 15-year-old London kid,
Ronald, resourceful and energetic. Ronald thinks Sherlock Holmes is
"the greatest man whatever lived" and is pretty good at deducing
things. Bear in mind that Sim and his wife took Cole into their
household when he was a boy and became Cole's foster parents. Sim saw
to Cole's education. When Cole wanted to become an actor like Sim, Sim
also saw to Cole's training. They appeared together in more than a
dozen movies, not as a team but as two skilled comic actors.
John Barrington (Leslie Banks) is a brilliant, eccentric British inventor. He works at his grand manor house in Scotland and has almost developed a revolutionary bomb sight. The Nazis want his secrets, preferably with Barrington as well. Barrington has a flighty, well-meaning wife (at one point she kindly tells Ronald, who has nearly destroyed a suit of armor, "Never mind, never mind. Just forget what a nuisance you are.") and a good-looking daughter. He also has an assistant who longs for the daughter. Suddenly the cottage on their grounds, which had been up for rent, is taken over as a military hospital. In it goes Flight Lieutenant Perry (John Mills), a Spitfire pilot who had to bail out and landed in a nearby loch with a bad arm. Then there's Dimble, who says he had arranged to rent the cottage and now has nowhere to stay. He's put up in a room next to Perry. There's young, confident Norman, sent up from London because of the blitz and lodged in the manor house. There's the butler, a bull-necked, taciturn man who was recently hired and a housekeeper who leaves with little notice. And before long we see Dimble has a revolver, Perry makes odd phone calls, Barrington seems over-confident, his assistant seems unduly interested in the bombsight and we learn Scotland Yard and MI-something have each sent a man up there. They have learned a Nazi spy ring has targeted Barrington and now has an agent in place. But who are the spies and who are Barrington's protectors? Well, one of the Nazi agents is not hard to figure out and one of the protectors is. The fun is in seeing how the game is played.
Cottage to Let has serious themes and clever characterizations. Bannister's well-bred wife comes from the Billie Burke school of thespianism, well-meaning and ditzy. Addressing the townsfolk who have come to the manor for the annual pageant, she quotes Churchill in honoring all the volunteers, "Never," she says, "has so much owed so many to so little." There's snappy dialogue, plenty of skullduggery, a shoot-up escape and death by rolling millstone. It's always fun to listen to the careful, well-bred diction of the upper-class coming from actors of assorted backgrounds who had to learn how to speak "properly" if they were to get leading roles. So many "girls" to be turned into "gels," so many a "here" and a "dear" to be turned into a nasal "heah" and a nasal "deah." The main actors all do fine jobs, but once again it's Alastair Sim who captures the movie. He was a superb actor with a unique style, and he is just about impossible not to watch. With Cottage to Let, however, his foster son, George Cole, just about gives him a run for his money. Cole turns in a supremely assured job as the supremely assured Norman, no one's fool yet still a very likable young man.
I've just watched Cottage to Let for the first time and found it quite
A motley collection of people come to stay at a cottage in Scotland including a scientist, pilot, a boy who is an evacuee from London and a new tenant. Soem of the people staying here are actually spies who plan to kidnap the scientist. The evacuee becomes suspicious and the butler is actually an undercover copper. The scientist is kidnapped towards the end and the evacuee gets caught up in all this and all are locked up in a room. The kidnappers get arrested and the pilot, who is one of them is shot dead at the end.
Cottage to Let is worth having just for the excellent cast, mostly British: Leslie Banks (Jamaica Inn), Alastair Sim (Scrooge), the late, great Sir John Mills (Scott of the Antarctic, Tiger Bay), a young George Cole (Minder)in his movie debut as the evacuee Ronald and one of Liz Talyor's many husbands, Michael Wilding.
This is worth watching, especially if you are into old movies. Great fun.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5.
Cottage to Let (1941)
There are so many characters, so many tinges of British accent, and such a parade of turncoats and double agents it's difficult to quite follow everything here. But stick it out. Or, in the extreme case (which I admit taking) see it twice. It's "quite worth it, I dare say."
A comedy on the surface, and quite funny all through, it's also a serious war movie, shot and released in the thick of World War II. The key theme is actually not the bomb sight design and the attempt by the government to protect its secret from spies. It's about loose lips. And looking for traitors among us.
So, here at this cottage near where a top scientist is working on a secret weapon idea, there is a parade of suspicious characters, and I mean characters, including the redoubtable Alastair Sim. There is a nutty family running the place, a couple of love affairs in the air, a bunch of secret messages sent by various messengers. I count rough twelve characters who matter, and if some are very minor, they are critical in some small way to the outcome. Allegiances are everything.
What makes the movie actually remarkable is that it holds to together so well. And it has a tight economy to the editing, and a fluidity to the filming, that keeps it really going. For some reason the lighting in the first half, and the interior scenes in general, is bright and flat (no Warner Bros. influence here I guess) but then there are some scenes later that are extraordinary in their dramatic atmosphere.
In fact, there are some ideas that prefigure famous later ones, like the auction that is interrupted by spies and good guys by bidding incorrectly, stolen by Hitchcock in "North by Northwest." Or even the ending which is a slim version of the mirror shootout by Welles in "Lady from Shanghai." It's quite an exciting finish (never mind the goofy millstone moment, which you'll see).
Anthony Asquith, the director, went on to make some mainstays of post-war British cinema, and that's yet another reason to appreciate this, as a precursor to his own work. But it also reveals a real intelligence for the movies. Evident and appreciated.
In the big view, it isn't the plot, which is necessarily contrived to give a message to the nation, but the many pieces, and the writing and acting in those pieces, that make the movie really strong. The one version out there (streaming on Netflix) is a weak print (and there is no DVD release, apparently) so the sound and even the richness of the visuals will hamper a good appreciation. Even so, give it a look. Alertly.
I plow through the '40s and '50s black and white films, usually Bs, and
occasionally I find a real gem. "Bombsight Stolen," or "Cottage to
Let," its American name, is one.
Based on a play, it stars Leslie Banks, Jeanne De Casalis, Alistair Sim, Michael Wilding, John Mills, and George Cole.
The activity centers around a Scottish cottage, where the Barringtons live. The cottage currently serves several purposes: a place for evacuees, a hospital when a downed British airman (Mills) is found nearby, a place for the annual fair, and a science lab, as Mr. Barrington (Banks) is a military inventor. When Mr. Dimble (Alistair Sim) shows up to rent the cottage, he finds out it's not for rent and moves into the house.
The Nazis want Barrington's inventions, so MI-5 and Scotland Yard each have a man in the house. Who are they? Is there a mole among them? Very enjoyable film, with a hilarious performance by Jeanne De Casalis, the lady of the house who can't keep anything straight. It's the showiest role. Alistair Sim is excellent, as is young John Mills and Sims' protégé, George Cole. I have a feeling the part of Ronald (Cole) was intended for an actor a couple of years younger. He evidently played the role on the stage, which would have been earlier.
Charming film, well directed by Anthony Asquith, with some interesting scenes that take place in the annual fair fun house at the end.
"Cottage to Let" is a long way from being one of the better films about
the Second World War made during it, but it does have a curiosity
It shows its origins as a stage-play, with the action concentrated on a house that curiously combines the roles of a private home, military hospital (staffed by its owner and daughter but apparently lacking trained nurses) and secret laboratory, and which also takes in an evacuee in the shape of George Cole. He does very well in his first film, but at 16 looks a bit too old and big (almost as tall as some of the adult men) in the part of someone I imagine was meant to be a bit younger.
Interestingly, one actor appears to play a character that contrasts with his usual roles, and another does.
The plot has several holes in it, of the type "how did so-and-so know that", and if I was that bothered or was bored I might run the recording through again to see it it makes a bit more sense. One puzzling scene early on involving a phone call does fall into place much later in the film.
An enjoyable piece of British wartime entertainment, probably to be appreciated more now than by audiences at the time, (who would have found it very 'stagey' and lacking in action, I suspect). The plot is nothing in particular and its stage origins are all too apparent in the set locations, which cover the cottage of the title acting as a lodging house, home for evacuated children from London and a military hospital (????) whilst, up at 'the Big House', there is a 'top-secret' research laboratory, (which you know is 'top secret' as one of the (numerous) doors has a sliding panel in it),(but which actually seems to have more people entering and leaving it in the course of the film than the lounge of the 'Dog and Duck'), country gentry residence and garden fête venue. The real strength of the film, though, is its very strong cast. Leslie Banks is quite watchable on as the lead and John Mills is his usual, (for the period), photogenic, brylcreemed RAF fighter pilot hero, (or IS he?), who delivers in the usual sound manner. George Cole makes his first film appearance as one of two Cockney scamps evacuated to the 'cottage', (although the other one disappears from view entirely after the first five minutes!), and one can already see him mentally in a mini-sheepskin coat and with a cigarillo in hand as he begins his apprenticeship for greater glories to come in his career. Alastair Sim is, as usual, extremely good value for money and always watchable. The REAL star, though, I thought, was Jeanne De Casalis as the dotty 'Lady of the Manor', showing marvellous comic timing, interacting with all the rest of the cast flawlessly, (catch her expression when the little girl who has just handed her a bouquet of flowers at the opening of the fête wants it back!), and having me in stitches with her spoonerisms, ("Are you the lad with the manor? I'm sorry, I meant the man with the ladder?"), and, above all, her speech opening the fête; ("In the words of our dear Prime Minister, never was so much owed by so few to so many"). Somehow, one just cannot see film-makers of the time doing the same to speeches of their leader in the Kremlin! I shall certainly watch out for any other films starring this lady.
A very brisk, lightly entertaining wartime thriller with quite an exciting ensemble cast, the film is however burdened down by a strange, ill-explained plot, which borders both on being contrived and confusing. The characters are also rather run-of-the-mill, but they do interact quite well together. The picture has some interesting ideas, some neat mirror work, and it is generally amusing stuff. Overall nothing too special or highly memorable, but it has enough mystery elements and thriller elements worked into it that it is able to provide adequate entertainment, even if it is not a perfect watch as such.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This all-too busy spy drama is a mixture of clever comedy and patriotic propaganda, as Nazi's are discovered in the oddest of places. Characters assumed to be bad are actually good, and vice versa. Certain other loyalties are revealed to be up in the air. Sometimes it is all a bit too much, but there's plenty of intrigue to keep you hooked. At times, it is a bit all over the map as to where it is going and what the script is talking about, but then the excitement starts up again, and you are back on the right road. This really hits its mark in the last five minutes when the villain finds himself cornered and manages to outwit pretty much everybody around them. Almost Hitchcock-like in nature, there is a fine cast of British acting vets, lead by Leslie Banks, John Mills and most notably, Alastair Sim in a way which you won't expect to see him. A fast- talking kid also deserves a lot of credit, giving a performance that seems so natural you would think that the producers just grabbed some teenager off the street and threw a script into his hand.
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