Cottage to Let (1941)
And here I thought I was about to embark on some sort of British version of The More The Merrier where John Mills and Leslie Banks share a cottage during the war time housing shortage only to have beautiful Carla Lehmann turn up at their door. No sir. What I got was a somewhat light hearted story of a downed RAF fighter on the mend surrounded by some rather eccentric characters that morphs into a first rate war time thriller of Nazi agents and British spies that offers up more than one surprise.
Produced at Gaumont and directed by Anthony Asquith, the film begins with a wounded Mills being brought to a cottage intended to be used as a field hospital for the military that is owned by the flighty yet charming Jeanne De Casalis and her inventor husband Leslie Banks. Banks is working alongside his assistant Michael Wilding for the military. Also turning up at the cottage with a rental agreement accompanied by ominous music is Alastair Sim. Sim quickly proves himself to be a very nosey individual always digging into the background of others and asking leading questions.
A displaced youngster George Cole playing his first role is staying at the main house on the same property. Think of him as a Leo Gorcey type who doesn’t trust adults and finds himself cast in the role of his literary hero, Sherlock Holmes, as he becomes a central figure in the eventual espionage twist the plot takes.
The film maintains it’s lighthearted feel for the majority of the first hour of the film’s 86 minute running time. Much of that has to do with the romantic triangle set forth by the cocksure Mills, Miss Lehmann as the daughter of Banks and the bookish Wilding who may be meek but is in love with the daughter of his employer. While Mills is on the mend from a shoulder injury, Sims’ identity is unveiled when he uses a homing pigeon to deliver a message to Nazi agents. And so the film morphs into a spy thriller.
It seems that Banks is on the verge of inventing something that the military can use against the forces of Germany and the enemy agents want to kidnap Banks and take him back to the Fatherland for their own gain. When Banks is actually kidnapped it’s young Cole that will lead the comeback over the final half hour that will see good conquer evil and unveil some plot twisting surprises that gullible old me never saw coming.
Even more surprising or perhaps shocking is the better word is the level of violence that the movie resorts to over the action packed finale that delivers plenty of bloodshed.
John Mills is excellent here as the RAF fighter on the mend and it’s very easy to see why he would go on to such a long and award winning career. The beautiful Carla Lehmann was actually born here in Winnipeg, Canada. An actress I know nothing about. Seems she had a career in British films during the 40’s before retiring from the profession early on in the 1950’s. The most noticeable piece of trivia here is the fact that George Cole and Alastair Sim would both star in the now classic 1951 version of A Christmas Carol/Scrooge. As a matter of fact they both played the famous role of Ebenezer. Cole as the younger version, Sim as the cranky old timer we always picture.
Cottage to Let is one of those films that languished a might to long here on the shelf at Mike’s Take and of course after finally giving it a go, I’m sorry I waited so long. Even more so when I think of some of the title’s I put ahead of it over the last year or so since picking it up in a second hand shop. Looking for a copy? It’s available from VCI on DVD here in North America and would assume it’s available overseas in it’s homeland.
All in all, I’d be only to happy to revisit this engaging romantic war time thriller with a solid cast doing their utmost to keep me enthralled and glued to the screen.