Though Hotel Reserve is a British production of a continental story (in other words, British actors playing French and Germans), it does have a certain flare to the visual. It’s a spy thriller set in the south of France with lots of models standing in for buildings and lots of sets. It very often looks good, even if the three directors only give the impression of tense shots. When the trio needs to be their best–at the end–they manage a nice set, a handful of good inconsequential shots and then fumble on the most important one in the film.
There’s some problem with the timing–the film is set before the war and the script overdoes the foreshadowing, especially at the end. The film opens, uneasily because the espionage angle gets introduced right away, with people vacationing. At the end, instead of being about vacationeers, it’s about the looming war. The combination of the misfired climax and the wrong-minded close really hurt the film.
Most of the film, with James Mason investigating his fellow guests to prove his own innocence, is entertaining. The script’s simple, but Mason’s good and the visual elements are interesting. It doesn’t hurt there’s occasionally some nice banter between Mason and Clare Hamilton. Though most of the hotel guests are forgettable (to the point they’d be confusing if one spent too much time trying to figure them out), Raymond Lovell, Frederick Valk and Lucie Mannheim are not. Unfortunately, as the most sinister lodger, Herbert Lom is uneven.
The film’s a decent time passer, without any pretensions at being more, but given the combination of the production values and the cast, it could have easily been significantly better. Many British films of the era used similar special effects to the same good effect, but it’s as though the makers never realized they could do both–make a good film and have the same technical fervor.
Produced and directed by Lance Comfort, Mutz Greenbaum and Victor Hanbury; adaptation and screenplay by John Davenport, based on a novel by Eric Ambler; director of photography, Greenbaum; edited by Sidney Stone; music by Lennox Berkeley; released by RKO Radio Pictures.
Starring James Mason (Peter Vadassy), Lucie Mannheim (Mme Suzanne Koch), Raymond Lovell (Robert Duclos), Julien Mitchell (Michel Beghin), Herbert Lom (Andre Roux), Martin Miller (Walter Vogel), Clare Hamilton (Mary Skelton), Frederick Valk (Emil Schimler), Patricia Medina (Odette Roux), Anthony Shaw (Major Anthony Chandon-Hartley), Laurence Hanray (Police Commissioner), David Ward (Henri Asticot), Valentine Dyall (Warren Skelton) and Joseph Almas (Albert).