Anthony Asquith (director)
Network On Air (studio)
16 March 2020 (released)
30 March 2020
It will be pretty obvious after about a quarter of an hour viewing time that this wordy British spy thriller was based on a stage play, as practically all of the action (not that there is a great deal) takes place in a remote cottage (to let) somewhere in bonnie Scotland.
Wealthy and upper-crust cottage owner Mrs. Barrington (Jean de Cassalis) has given the cottage over for the war effort. Not only has she taken in cocky teenage lad Ronald (George Cole in his first role) who is a child evacuee from London, she’s also given the ok to have the place converted into a military hospital. Enter Spitfire pilot Lt. Perry (John Mills) - rescued from a nearby loch after parachuting from his plane and now the first patient to recuperate in her makeshift hospital. Arriving amid this chaos is rather curious middle-aged gentleman called Charles Dimble (Alastair Sim) who had already paid money believing he can rent the cottage. Realising the confusion, which is down to her forgetfulness, Mrs. Barrington comes up with a compromise: she moves Ronald to the main building with Dimble and Perry allowed to remain in the cottage of the title.
In the main building Ronald makes friends (well, of sorts) with Mrs. Barrington’s husband John (Leslie Banks), a genius if somewhat eccentric inventor (aren’t most inventors?) working on a bombsight for the RAF… making him the ‘most wanted person’ by the Nazis, for obvious reasons! Meanwhile, Mrs. Barrington’s attractive daughter Helen (Carla Lehmann), doing her best as a temporary nurse in the ‘military hospital’, has her eyes set on patient Lt. Perry and vice versa, much to the chagrin of John Barrington’s young assistant Alan Trently (Michael Wilding) – a bumbling chap with Harold Lloyd specs. Actor Michael Wilding represents a certain studied exercise in acting style – it is a style that we are unlikely to see again.
As daily activities in the small household continue, with Mrs. Barrington trying to whip up dishes despite restrictions due to rationing, the British Government grows increasingly alarmed over the safety of inventor Barrington seeing how those dastardly Nazis managed to copy John’s previous invention! Soon, tongues begin to wag over Dimble’s mysterious carryings-on and his countless questions concerning this, that and the other. However, the finger of blame then points towards perfectly Alan Trently for the simple reason that he had been educated in Germany.
After sixty minutes or so running time we finally get some much needed action when inventor Barrington is kidnapped by German agents. Indeed, someone here is a QUISLING (a word that has disappeared from use these days, referring to traitor). Of all the characters it’s teenager Roland, a fine, upstanding and plucky young British lad who saves the day: “You dirty 'un” he shouts at the Nazi spy once it becomes clear just who the spy is… but we won’t reveal it here. As already mentioned, it takes almost an entire hour before things begin to get more exciting and while not quite all hell breaks lose it's a fair stab. Unfortunately, too much time is wasted on insignificant waffle during the film’s first half.
Alastair Sim is always a delight and we know where we stand with Johnny Mills. That said…. However, the young and curly-haired George Cole (who was promptly adopted by Sim who became his mentor) is easily the best thing about the film and a true revelation. Without his cockney buoyancy things would have flagged considerably. This newly restored Blu-ray release COTTAGE TO LET is worth a look for that reason alone.