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  Cottage to Let Agents Of Confusion
Year: 1941
Director: Anthony Asquith
Stars: Leslie Banks, Alastair Sim, John Mills, Jeanne De Casalis, Carla Lehmann, George Cole, Michael Wilding, Frank Cellier, Muriel Aked, Wally Patch, Muriel George, Hay Petrie, Catherine Lacey
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: A Spitfire pilot has been fished out of a Scottish loch, injured, and taken to the nearest doctor. Unfortunately there has been a mix-up, and the doctor wanted the cottage on the estate of the Barringtons to be his medical centre, whereas Mrs Barrington (Jeanne De Casalis) thought she would be using it to house a couple of evacuees from London. As it turns out, the administrator for the children has shown up at the same time as the ailing pilot under the impression that Mrs Barrington wanted to look after twenty of them - and now the writer Mr Dimble (Alastair Sim) has arrived...

Very much in demand, this cottage, but don't go thinking this is all about desirable properties in the wilds of the Scottish countryside, as this was actually one of those British wartime propaganda outings with a more distinguished cast than usual. Not only was Sim playing the shifty writer, but John Mills was the pilot and Leslie Banks was Mr Barrington, an inventor whose latest creation has attracted all sorts of interest, and not all of it benevolent. He wants to find a cure for influenza, but the government wants him to perfect the bomb sights which he has been beavering away at to almost ideal results.

The fact that he hasn't quite made them flawless is probably the reason why enemy agents have not swooped down on him sooner, and are biding their time till the point where they can steal the plans and do away with the scientist, who is a little scatterbrained in stereotypical boffin style. In this type of thriller the United Kingdom was always crawling with Nazi spies who could be lying in wait for unsuspecting Brits, offering the audience the advice to stay alert at all times for anyone suspicious. Whether there were that many Nazis abroad in the land is debatable, but the premise was one which wartime-set films have returned to time and again.

In the role of evacuee Ronald was a sixteen-year-old George Cole, at the start of a long career in acting which reached its height of success in the popular comedy drama Minder on television during the nineteen-eighties, so those who remember that will find it amusing to see him here, where it all began. Ronald is a big fan of Sherlock Holmes and patterns himself after him, not by wearing a deerstalker and smoking a pipe, but in his use of logic and deduction: he's right, for example, when he perceives that Barrington's butler used to be a policeman, and is really acting as a bodyguard unbeknownst to the scientist.

If Cole were the lead this could very easily have been ideal for the nation's children of the day, a true Boys' Own adventure, but the script has a lot of characters to play with, seeing various of them sidelined as others grab the limelight. While it takes its thriller aspects seriously, there's an agreeably irreverent sense of humour elsewhere, making for a modest but enjoyable mixture of thrills and giggles to go along with the paranoia. That's because we're not very sure who is the baddie and who is not, and the plot is allowed to unfold gradually, perhaps too gradually, as each player's purpose is revealed. We can tell that Barrington is on the side of right, as is Ronald, but the pilot is acting oddly and Dimble may not to be trusted, essayed with Sim's trademark saturnine-visaged cheer. Why this has endured when so many other propaganda movies have not may be down to the fact that it lapsed into public domain, but if you take a chance on it as it pops up from time to time it's a worthy diversion.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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