Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Movie Review - Hobson's Choice (1954)

Hobson's Choice is a great comedy directed by David Lean.  The story centres around Henry Horatio Hobson (Charles Laughton), a chauvinistic businessman who has been "looking after" his three daughters since the death of his wife.  Looking after, of course, means getting them to do all the work at his shoe shop without pay, expecting them to do all the housework and plan everything to his timetable, which is exclusively based around his visits to the local pub.  This is resulted in a rebellious attitude among his three daughters; however the younger two, Alice and Vicky (Daphne Anderson and Prunella Scales), are rather timid in their plans, while eldest daughter Maggie (Brenda De Banzie) is extremely head-strong, has a good business brain (and has basically run the business single-handedly for many years), and has a plan...

This plan involves asking (well, ordering) the young man who works as a shoemaker at her father's shop to marry her, and then going off to start their own business.  Many people scoff and oppose her, but she's determined to let nothing stop her.  Despite her draconian methods, eventually the unassuming young shoemaker (Willie Mossop, played brilliantly by John Mills) does come to love her, and it becomes clear that she does actually genuinely love him too.  Family relations remain extremely strained however, to the point that both her father and sisters threaten to boycott her wedding day.  As always, however, Maggie has a plan...

Hobson's Choice is beautifully filmed - the transitions from one scene to another are brilliantly done, and the movie has some good special effects for a movie of the time.  For the most part it's directed with great skill, combining comedy and drama to great effect; the pacing does strangely lag in a couple of places though.  There's some good dialogue too, but the main reason this movie is so enjoyable is down to the performances.  Charles Laughton is repulsive yet pitiable as the mindless bigot who just may have the heart of a good man lurking somewhere deep inside of him; Brenda De Banzie is brutally bossy yet compassionate when the situation calls for it; the supporting cast are good too.  John Mills is absolutely spectacular; not only is he completely believable as the man who's poorly educated and inexperienced in life but gifted when it comes to shoemaking, but his comic timing is absolutely spot on.

Also worthy of note is Malcolm Arnold's fun music score - or to be more precise, the way it complements the film and how events in the film are set to the music.  Brilliantly done.

I've developed quite a fondness for 1950's comedies, and Hobson's Choice is one of the best yet.  Despite a few scenes that lagged a little, there are some classic moments of pure comedy in this film and considering it's an old film set even earlier, the humour hasn't dated a bit.  (Though of course, some of the humour actually comes from how hopelessly dated some of the ideas and attitudes are.)

Other Information

Hobson's Choice won the BAFTA Award for Best Picture, with John Mills and Brenda De Banzie nominated as Best British Actor / Actress, while David Lean, Norman Spencer and Wynyard Browne were nominated for Best Screenplay.  It was also nominated for Best Film from Any Source.  David Lean won the Golden Berlin Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.

The screenplay was adapted from Harold Brighouse's 1915 stage comedy.  Apparently the idea to do this came from Alexander Korda.

John Mills is said to have viewed this as one of his favourite films... he was very nearly not in it however, being an 11th hour casting decision; originally Robert Donat was intended to play the role.

Other Fifites' Comedies I'm fond of...

We're No Angels
The Horse's Mouth
Champagne for Caesar
Court Jester

CaptainD - Movie Reviews Blog

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