George Cole's Sherlock Cottage
"Cottage to Let" is over 70s years old yet still is so entertaining with it's comedy thriller storyline which is more comedy than thriller, but that is not the most significant thing about "Cottage to Let". The most significant thing is that "Cottage to Let" stars John Mills and Alastair Sim two high calibre actors yet they are outshone in ever scene by a teenage George Cole who was making his movie debut. That is not to say that Mills and Sim amongst as well as the other actors put in poor performances, they are on the ball, it's just the cheeky brilliance and confidence of young George Cole which makes "Cottage to Let" memorable.
With the war going on Mrs. Barrington (Jeanne De Casalis) decides to put the cottage on the estate to good use by not only paying host to London evacuee Ronald (George Cole - Take Me High), injured pilot Flt. Lieut. Perry (John Mills) as well as writer Charles Dimble (Alastair Sim - The Millionairess). But all is not as it seems and young Ronald is the first to notice that the Barrington's butler Evans (Wally Patch) is not a butler but an undercover policeman. And he isn't the only suspicious character who seems to have an extra interest in Mr. Barrington (Leslie Banks) an inventor critical to the British military.
To put is simply "Cottage to Let" is one of those good old British who's who movies, the sort where we have several characters and as the story unfolds we try and second guess who is basically a good guy and who is a bad guy. As such we have the simple but contrived set up of the cottage on Mr Barrington's estate and in a dizzying open scene this cottage pays host to a young evacuee, an injured pilot as well as a writer who has rented it. On top of this we also have the main house where Mr. Barrington is an inventor helping to fight the war with his inventions, he has an assistant, a wife and there is the butler. But we immediately know all is not as it seems as there are furtive glances between various people and dodgy dealings.
Now after a simple and lets be honest a little crazy opening things settle down as we try and work out who's who with a little aid from Ronald the evacuee who is a fan of Sherlock Holmes. As such Ronald cottons on to the fact that Evans the butler is not really a butler but an undercover police man and at the same time we learn that Flt•Lieut. Perry is definitely not what he appears as he fakes a phone call. You can add to that the cook who we discover is passing on messages from inside the house to an outside agency. And so we second guess who is who, is Perry a secret agent, maybe the congenial Charles Dimble is a German agent and what about Mr. Barrington's assistant Alan Trently, he seems very furtive maybe he is a double agent.
Now whilst we of course find out exactly who's who in a surprisingly thrilling ending "Cottage to Let" is in effect more comedy than thriller, but not a comedy of set pieces. Instead every time we have Ronald putting two and two together, mocking Evans behind his back and so on you can't but help smile. And then there is the dotty Mrs. Barrington whose almost in a world of her own, oblivious to those around her. Add to that the humour of both Perry and Trently liking Mr. Barrington's daughter Helen and there is humour flowing throughout almost every scene.
Now there isn't a bad performance in "Cottage to Let" and there are a lot of stand out performances such as those from John Mills and Alastair Sim. In fact Jeanne De Casalis is a pure delight as the eccentric Mrs. Barrington whilst Leslie Banks is almost normal as her husband John. But for me the star of "Cottage to Let" is George Cole in his debut movie, yes there are times he is hesitant but the cheekiness and self confidence that he gives Ronald is comedy gold and as already mentioned he outshines the more seasoned professionals in the scenes they share.
What this all boils down to is that "Cottage to Let" is a fun, very typical British wartime comedy thriller which is more comedy than thriller. But it is worth a watch because of a young George Cole outshining the likes of John Mills and Alastair Sim despite this being his movie debut.