HOTEL RESERVE. RKO Radio Pictures-UK, 1944. James Mason, Lucie Mannheim, Julien Mitchell, Herbert Lom, Clare Hamilton, Frederick Valk, Raymond Lovell, Patricia Medina. Based on the novel Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler. Directors: Lance Comfort, Max Greene (Mutz Greenbaum), Victor Hanbury.


    There must be a well-known rule of thumb, something like Murphy’s Law except that I don’t know the name, that when a movie has three directors, it’s not very good. While there are some good moments in Hotel Reserve, it’s no exception to prove the rule.

    I don’t think it was the author’s fault. Back in the 1950s when I first started reading “grown-up” mysteries, Eric Ambler was one of my favorite authors. His spy novels written in the 1940s were wonderfully descriptive and intense, filled with ordinary citizens getting into the most intricate plots — and all the better, finding their way out.

    I’ll have to re-read them sometime. Perhaps they won’t hold up or match my memories, but I think they will. In Hotel Reserve it is a man named Peter Vadassy (James Mason), an intense medical student who’s half-Austrian and half-French and anxiously awaiting his French naturalization papers, who gets into trouble during a short vacation at a French seaside resort, circa 1939.


    It seems that someone accidentally used his camera to take some photographs of a defense installation, and the police, particularly intelligence chief Michel Beghin (Julien Mitchell) are not amused. Although he knows Vadassy to be innocent, he sends him back to the hotel to find the real culprit, under the threat of deportation if he fails.

    The set-up is fine. This had all the signs of a pretty good amateur detective story, but what follows instead is a mish-mash of comedy and inept B-movie clunks on the head and angry confrontations.

    The other vacationers are difficult to keep track of — who’s who and why they’re there — even Vadassy’s would-be girl friend, Mary Skelton (Clare Hamilton).


   That the latter is surprisingly wooden in both attitude and delivery is explained by the fact that this is the only movie she ever made. (It is claimed by several sources that Clare Hamilton was the sister of Maureen O’Hara; at least one person leaving comments on IMDB is not so sure.)

    If you read through the list of the cast that I provided above — I didn’t list them all, as most of them have very small parts — and assuming that you recognize some of the names, you may pick out the true culprit(s) rather easily.

    James Mason, alas, didn’t have that luxury. He does well in the part, frightfully earnest to the end, but he’s undone by an indifferent script, a ludicrous ending, and three directors, none of whom can be compared to, say, a certain Mr Hitchcock, except badly.