COTTAGE TO LET, aka BOMBSIGHT STOLEN. Gainsborough, UK. 1941. Leslie Banks, Alastair Sim, John Mills, George Cole, Michael Wilding, and a host of solid British supporting players. Screenplay by Anatole de Grunwald, from a play by John Kerr. Directed by Anthony Asquith.

   A surprisingly jaunty film to come out of England during the Blitz, and a solidly entertaining one.

   The plot circles around a cottage in Scotland that has been designated as a recovery hospital for wounded airmen. It has never had a patient, but:

   It houses the laboratory of an eccentric inventor (Leslie Banks) and:

   The grande dame who owns it decides it would be a perfect place to accommodate children evacuated from London during the Blitz. She gets only one, a scruffy street urchin (George Cole, in his film debut age 15) not knowing that:

   The agents who manage the Grande Dame’s property (he sign is an in-joke) have rented it out to Alastair Sim. and then:

   They get their first patient, a likeable downed flier (John Mills.)

   Add a comely nurse for romance, an officious butler for comic relief and it looks like a set-up for light comedy. But then:

   It develops that Banks’ inventions are really helping Britain in the War Effort, but information on them is leaking out to the Germans. So British Intelligence has sent someone there to ferret out the spy, and we’re supposed to guess Who is What while they all act suspiciously — except for the cockney kid from London, who is a fan of Sherlock Holmes (“The greatest bloke what ever lived!”) and uses his powers of deduction….

   From this point on, Cottage spins between deft comedy, suspense, and heart-stopping action in the early Hitchcock-Gilliatt vein, with cunning traps, narrow escapes, and characters with a bit more depth than one expects. Leslie Bank chafes so convincingly at official red tape that one suspects he may be selling his own secrets to the Nazis. John Mills is really quite moving as the flier who is not what he seems to be, and Alastair Sim, funny as ever, is surprisingly sinister in his best moments.

   This film began a life-long friendship between George Cole and Alastair Sim, who put him in many of his movies. It’s also a lot of fun, with a showy shoot-out in a tawdry hall of mirrors. Don’t be put off by the soporific title — this is the Goods!