Look here, old chap, I have ways of making you talk

Frederick Valk plays James Mason for his lunch money.

The best way to spread a rumour is to take someone into your confidence and swear them to secrecy.

Because who can keep quiet when they’ve got a really juicy tidbit they’re bursting to share?

This don’t-tell-anybody-but-make-sure-you-tell-everybody ploy is a trick James Mason uses in the British war-time thriller Hotel Reserve (1945). Mason is a happy Austrian medical student vacationing at a French resort during WWII. But when police discover he (unknowingly) possesses images of a top-secret French military base, he must find out who shot the photographs.

It’s weird to see Mason as an innocent bystander, in the wrong place at the wrong time, forced into the role of a reluctant stool pigeon. (We much prefer to see him as a bossy villain, such as the delightfully evil Phillip Vandamm in North by Northwest.)

Frankly, we found Hotel Reserve a bit odd. The plot is a stretch: someone at the resort has accidentally used Mason’s camera to take illegal military photographs. The premise is meant to be Hitchcock-ian, no doubt, but in this film it falls flat. Never mind treasonous agents, who is that careless with their camera when they’re on vacation?

Then there is the matter of Mason’s character. He is supposed to be Austrian but his demeanor and accent are stereotypically British. For example, when a fellow guest catches a large fish, Mason exclaims, “I say! That is a fish, isn’t it?”

Plus there are the usual supporting characters: the untrustworthy hotel proprietress; the grumpy and secretive German; the unlikable honeymooning couple; the British tourist (complete with tweeds and a pipe); and the young woman, Clare Hamilton (Maureen O’Hara’s real-life sister), who is hopelessly in love with Mason. Everyone is supposed to be suspicious – who, WHO shot those pictures? – but it’s painfully easy to see who’s guilty and who isn’t.

The movie also seems to have trouble deciding if it’s a thriller, or a pseudo film noir, or a light-hearted drama. In one scene, a man squeezes the flash bulb on an old-fashioned camera and it makes the sound of someone passing wind. The man squeezes the bulb repeatedly, which produces rapid-fire flatulence sound effects.

And yet, there are things to love about this movie: the scenery of the seaside; the interesting sets; the foreign feel of the film. The texture is rough and in no way feels like it’s been manufactured by the slick Hollywood studio system.

We also like the importance the script places on eating lunch. Any movie that takes lunch this seriously is A-OK with us.

We’ve given it a mixed review but we don’t want to discourage you from watching Hotel Reserve. Not at all! You really ought to see it because it isn’t from Hollywood, and because James Mason is always worth it.

Reserve: starring James Mason, Lucie Mannheim and Raymond Lovell. Written by John Davenport. Directed by Victor Hanbury, Lance Comfort and Max Greene. RKO Radio Pictures, BW, 1945, 90 mins.   

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

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