Hotel Reserve is a 1944 British spy thriller somewhat in the mould of 1930s Hitchcock thrillers like The Lady Vanishes. It combines suspense, some tongue-in-cheek comedy and a little romance.
A young Austrian, Peter Vadassy (played by James Mason), finds himself accused of espionage in France in 1938. On a seaside holiday at the Hotel Reserve he is indulging himself in his favourite hobby, photography, but unfortunately the gendarmes discover photographs of secret military installations on a roll of film he has left at the village store for processing. He is innocent, but must somehow find the real spy in order to clear his name.
The movie benefits from a fine cast, with especially entertaining performances by Julien Mitchell as the French intelligence chief and Herbert Lom (always a delight) as one of the guests at the hotel. Mason is superb, a mixture of boyish charm, naivete, injured innocence and surprising resourcefulness.
Hotel Reserve is sometimes mentioned as an example of a British film noir, and it does have some definite noir features. The second half of the movie becomes progressively darker in tone, and the photography starts to take on a very noirish look. The closing sequences in particular are all shadows and low-key lighting, and are very effective. Any movie based on a novel by Eric Ambler (a shamefully neglected and underrated writer today) is almost inevitably going to have an atmosphere conducive to film noir, Ambler’s specialty being the ordinary person caught up in a nightmare world of suspicion, danger and intrigue, a world in which no-one is quite what they seem to be and no-one can be trusted.
This is a well-crafted and thoroughly enjoyable little movie, a fine example of the superb mystery thrillers that the British film industry seemed to be able to turn out in abundance in the 1940s and 1950s.