Albert (Gordon Harker) has been in the same job as waiter at this hotel, the Jolly Fiddler inn, for the past forty years or so, and he knows all the tricks of the trade he is happy to pass on to the latest waitress, Effie (Janet Munro), such as ensuring the tip money she gets is as high as possible thanks to manipulation of the sixpence and shilling change on the saucer. She notes these well, but tells Albert she doesn't wish to be a waitress all her life, an ambition he is somewhat indignant about seeing as how well he's done out of the profession. There is one regular guest there in the shape of the Justice of the Peace, Mrs Samson (Marie Lohr), and Effie is terrified of her as she was the one who insisted on her getting this job after an altercation with the police, but Albert has ways of pulling strings...
However, he will need all his wits about him if he wishes to keep the status quo he has done so well to preserve these last few decades, especially when the hotel's head office is planning on putting him out to pasture. That was the set-up, aside from a few asides, that Albert will run rings around everyone in the cast, though not physically, he is getting on a bit, but mentally he is wily enough to get his own way. This could have made the waiter some Machiavellian villain, crushing anyone who obstructs him until he finally prevails, which to be fair was more or less what happened, but in Small Hotel we were prompted to admire him for his keen wits. Whether you did or not depended very much on how you felt about Gordon Harker, a veteran actor reprising his stage performance in one of his final roles.
He was best known by contemporary audiences, or at least the ones who would have made a point of watching this, as Inspector Hornleigh in a trilogy of movies from around fifteen-to-twenty years before, another wily character who Harker excelled at, though he could just as easily essay the droning old buffer parts, and some would unkindly say he approached them both in the same manner. Here he was a shade more sprightly, given the chance to go for laughs in a modest B-movie comedy, but rising to the occasion seemingly since he was surrounded by some very adept performers that allowed him to raise his game. Nowadays, as she still commands a strong following, Janet Munro would be the main source of interest, for this was her movie debut.
Much of that following is rather sentimental as Munro was a screen beauty worried over thanks to her tragically early death; mix that with her Disney roles and some high quality grown up jobs that she failed to capitalise on with the then-fickle public and you can see why she would be the object of interest. Here she was bright as the waitress, securing some nice exchanges with the older cast members, including veteran stage actress Marie Lohr on top frosty form, but also Irene Handl, a stalwart of British movies here playing the cook who won't back down and has a nice line in muddled up dialogue; Harker enjoyed real comic chemistry with her. Further down the cast was Samuel Beckett muse Billie Whitelaw, not quite a star character actress but getting there, and putting in a decent turn as the prickly replacement for Albert. You get the idea: this contained a few chuckles but what was actually going to appeal was the performers, and if you saw a name you recognised in the credits you were assured you'd see them at their most professional. The music sounds curiously Scottish (as was the director).
[The Network DVD as part of their British Film Collection has a nice print and the trailer as an extra.]