Cottage to Let (Special Edition) Review
George Cole, playing a youngster on whose shoulders rests the head of an adult, is a young man evacuated from London to live in the same house as inventor John Barrington (Leslie Banks) and his wife (Jeanne de Casalis). He arrives, though, with no small amount of excitement about the Barrington estate with a fighter pilot, Perry (John Mills), having parachuted into a nearby lake. As he's taken to the Barrington home for rest and recuperation and later the renting of a nearby cottage, there's another visitor, albeit a more unwelcome one in the shape of the odd-looking and nosey Charles Dimble (Alastair Sim). In amongst all of this, there's a Nazi threat creeping into the gentility of the English countryside, one that threatens to steal away Barrington's new bombsight. Suspicions fall on Dimble...
Originally a stage play, Cottage To Let came to film in a manner very similar to how such things did once upon a time. A neatly plotted film with much talk of Nazis, daring new wartime technologies developed by a reclusive boffin and a whopping amount of misleading action, Cottage To Let is talky, gallops forward at a pace and rarely strays, as it would have done in the theatre, from three or four sets, one of which is the titular cottage in which John Mills' fighter pilot recuperates after a nearby crash. However, much like The Ghost Train, there is much to enjoy with Cottage To Let, particularly in the manner in which the dialogue, though it props up a fairly hokey wartime story, has been honed through many performances on the stage such that it feels, if not exactly natural, then at least having an easygoing flow.
It is worth saying, as with so many films in which he appeared - A Christmas Carol, Green For Danger and School For Scoundrels - that the real pleasure in the piece is the performance of Alastair Sim. He arrives skulking about the place, his every action, minor or not, suggesting that he's up to no good. Given the times, this does imply that he's doing treacherous things on behalf of the Nazis but things become a lot less clear as the film goes on. John Mills, a stalwart presence in other wartime thrillers (The Colditz Story and Ice Cold In Alex) begins to look a little suspicious as he mutters into a telephone, though no more so than the various locals who loiter about the Barrington estate. Sim, never quite letting the audience know his intentions, sneaks looks into Barrington's laboratory in the manner of someone not serving Queen and country but with such a glint in his eyes that all may not appear to be as we might expect.
Cottage To Let rests on Sim's performance to such an extent that one is prepared to swallow all manner of nonsense in the story to watch him. Mostly this comes from watching a young George Cole, who appears to have a thirtysomething head on fifteen-year-old shoulders, wander throughout the Barrington house even to discussing items of wartime interest with the inventor in such a manner as to suggest that the safety net of the official secrets act was as tightly knit as a pullover crafted by a couple of house spiders. Watching Cole chatter about the professors experiments with a new type of aeroplane as though he was discussing West Ham's back four does stretch the credibility of Cottage To Let but with Alastair Sim lurking in the background, any question of this film being based in fact is as irrelevant as one that asks who put the whop in the whop-bop-a-loo-bop. It is simply a good deal of fun, even more so as it draws to a conclusion with a room full of Nazis, a shootout at a country fair and George Cole looking confused in a hall of mirrors. Like Bruce Lee many years later albeit less able to sidekick and struggling with a Nazi spy at least twice his age.
Cottage To Let has enjoyed a typical release from Network in that it doesn't really look at all bad but it's let down by a couple of glaring errors. Firstly, there's a bit of interference that travels up the screen about fifteen minutes from its end, which looks more like a tracking error on a VHS tape than anything else, whilst the audio track suffers from two dropouts of the audio in the film's final moments. However, there is something about films of this vintage that means the hiss and the visual softness doesn't put one off the film, much like how old blues records sound that much better with some crackle behind it. And so although there are some obvious problems with Cottage To Let, it's still a comfortable-looking film, all the better suited to, if time permits, a viewing on a wet afternoon.
Image Gallery (29s): Being only 29s long, there isn't very much in here that one can say much about, other than to let you know that it includes a number of stills taken during the production of the film. These, though, are of a much higher quality than the main feature, which suggests they were not taken from frames of the film, more that they were photographed on the set.
The Prodigal Daughter (52m27s): Beginning with the revolving silver knight of Anglia Television - so much does one associate this image with Sunday afternoons that I expected Sale Of The Century to follow - this made-for-television play stars Alastair Sim in one of his last roles, playing a priest who finds himself in a curious position, welcoming a new housekeeper as a fellow priest begins to doubt his place in the church. A well-written piece (by David Turner), this sees the arrival of a young woman, who may be looking for salvation following her aborting her unborn child, awakening sexual desire in one of the priests for whom she keeps house. As he considers his place in the church, Sim, as the wise Father Perfect, guides him and, in his final moments, reveals the very best of the church, a place where forgiveness goes hand-in-hand with the love of God and the love of one's neighbour.
This is a marvellous television play, being warm-hearted and unsensational, concerned with a subject and portraying it in such a way that you simply don't get any more. That is, being three priests, none of which are suspected of murder, father to a hidden child or guilty of paedophilia. Instead, Sim has a wonderful role, being something of a father figure to the two young priests in his charge but with such a lightness of touch (recognisable here and in School For Scoundrels) that implies some knowledge of the wiles of the world. So good is this that it is the equal of the main feature and there aren't many DVDs that can have that said about them.
Network continue their fashion of producing very decent releases of films in amongst some very ordinary ones but it's fair to say that they are becoming much more consistent. This one is an above-average entry, never looking great but coming with an interesting made-for-television play in its special features. Still, it is further proof that Network are improving, not only for their choice of material, which is as surprising as it is enjoyable, but in the bonus material that they're uncovering. Getting better as time passes, particularly for fans of film and television of a particular era, they're quickly becoming one of the more interesting DVD publishers. May we see the equal of this material again.