Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: COTTAGE TO LET starring Leslie Banks, Alastair Sim, John Mills and Michael Wilding

COTTAGE TO LET (1941) is an obscure, but terrific little movie (based on a play) and directed by Anthony Asquith. It's a perfect entry for Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film day, the weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason. Don't forget to check out Todd's blog, SWEET FREEDOM, to see what other films other bloggers will be talking about today.

The one drawback to COTTAGE TO LET is the film's silly title which had actually kept me from watching it until very recently. COTTAGE TO LET - does that sound like a nifty spy movie? Of course not. But doubts aside, it is exactly that.

The more suspicious among us can probably figure out early who the Nazi infiltrator is, but on the whole, the thing is really handled very well. The cast of British stalwarts is exceptional.

John Barrington (Leslie Banks) is an eccentric inventor (is there any other kind?) working on a new bomb sight which will help the British war effort. He prefers to work on his isolated Scottish estate without the interference of guards or other official types which might hinder his thought processes. 

Barrington works with the help of lab assistant Alan Trent (played by Michael Wilding) a kind of hapless, eyeglass wearing doofus, who happens to be in love with Barrington's daughter Helen (Carla Lehman) though that doesn't stop him from acting suspiciously around the lab.

Michael Wilding (sans glasses) and Carla Lehman

That's the fun of this film, most everyone behaves suspiciously and it's hard to know who to trust until almost the very end.

Michael Wilding and Alastair Sim

The 'cottage to let' of the title turns out to be a very busy place right next door to the main house in which Barrington has his laboratory. Mrs. Barrington, (Jeanne De Casalis) is the ditzy, dithery sort - in her own way as eccentric as her husband. She has agreed to turn the cottage into some sort of  evacuee refuge or war hospital even though it has been promised to a certain Mr. Charles Dimble (Alastair Sim) who explains to the flustered Mrs. Barrington that he has, after all, paid his rent in advance. The Brits are such experts at this cozy-spy-mystery sort of thing - they've turned it into a separate movie art form.

George Cole playing the evacuee, Ronald, a kid from the London streets.

The mix-up isn't helped by the addition of Ronald a young London evacuee (the delightful George Cole in his first movie) with street smarts who is determined to get in everyone's way especially once he's moved up to the big house to make room at the cottage for a downed RAF pilot, Flt. Lieut. Perry (John Mills) who has been fished out of a Loch and must share the cottage (while convalescing) with the obsequious and rather creepy Mr. Dimble. So at the beginning of the film, it's a kind of jumble until the characters sort themselves out. .

The infamous laboratory. Notice that the kid had no trouble getting in.

For a man working on a secret bomb sight, Barrington has little or no security though we learn early on that the butler is really a London copper sent in by Scotland Yard without Barrington's knowledge. 

In the meantime, there's a fete planned to take place on the grounds and inside the house (I know, it's all too preposterous but so very English) to raise money for the war effort and London officials are rightly concerned that the setup at Barrington's estate is sounding less and less likely to work out well. 

Soon there are spies passing messages and meeting in out of the way places and a suspicious looking piano tuner (!?) working inside the house only a few steps from the laboratory. 

John Mills and Carla Lehman

Before you know it, there's a marriage proposal, several characters are coshed on the head and spirited away to an abandoned mill and we get to the end of the film amid lots of gunfire and dead bodies. Needless to say, the Nazi spies are vanquished once again and a lovely time was had by all.


  1. It does sound charming. Have you ever pursued the THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR psychic-detective latter-day radio drama? I think you'd enjoy it.


  2. This looks just great. Hope it comes on TCM.

  3. Oh, we watched this last year! Actually, I was thinking of joining in the Overlooked Movies meme one of these days and starting out with this one - you beat me to it! :) I though the fluttery Mrs. Barrington was a hoot, and George Cole was a real scene-stealer. And of course Alastair Sim is always good.

    Patti, it's actually available on Netflix Instant, Internet Archive and YouTube if you wanted to watch it online.

  4. No I haven't Todd, but I'll write myself a memo. I'm always the last to know about all these cool websites and radio things.

  5. Patti: I know about your feud with Netflix so I won't recommend it. But you might be able to catch it on youtube according to Elizabeth.

  6. I really liked the entire cast, Elizabeth. George Cole's hair kept my eyes glued to the screen. Ha.

    Casting against type really worked well here. Mrs. Barrington was TOO much. Loved her.

  7. Just put it in my netflix que! Thanks!

  8. You're welcome, Peggy Ann. Hope you enjoy it!

  9. sounds like an interesting film hidden behind a rather daft title :)

    I like all the principal players in it.

  10. iluvcinema: It is, definitely. Good actors all. Very enjoyable.

  11. Great fun Yvette (the film and your review of it). Apart from the slightly dull Michael Wilding it's a great cast (but then it's hard not to enjoy any kind of film with Sim in it!)

  12. Thanks, Sergio, I really did not expect to enjoy this film as much as I did. I love that sort of surprise. :)

  13. Love Ronald! He's my favorite character in the whole thing. Although I do really like Alistair Sim, Leslie Banks and John Mills, too. I made marmalade teabread to go with this movie last year: http://www.thepastonaplate.com/2011/02/traditional-british-food-marmalade.html

  14. Just found the entire film (not broken up into fragments either!) on YouTube. Going to watch it right now. Report to follow...

  15. I'm back. A real delight! "I'm not up on my Oppenheim. Tell me you're not a German spy." "An agent. Spies work on the other side." Thanks for pointing out this neat little film, Yvette. imdb.com says it was renamed Bombsight Stolen which is hardly an improvement on the original title. Sim and Cole were the best. And Jeanne De Casalis as Mrs. Barrington reminded me of a very young Estelle Winwood or an English Marion Lorne. Dotty and addle brained and hysterical. Glad I was able to see this.

  16. Lauren, marmelade tea bread sounds
    yummy! And a perfect foody companion for this movie. :)

  17. John: Don't you love it when you discover a little gem like this one? I'm so glad I took the time to check it out.

    I'm still trying to find the Perry Mason movie one of us mentioned last week or the week before. With Warren William as Mason. Don't want to watch it in installments.

    You're welcome, by the way. I'm just glad you liked it.

    Actually every one in the cast is pretty special. Though Sim can be pretty creepy when he puts his mind to it. :)


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