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From a movie I had absolutely never heard of, Hobson's Choice has quickly
flown to the top third of my all-time favorite film list. I happened upon
this little gem by doing a Charles Laughton search in the video data bank of
our university library computer system. I had been hoping we might have The
Hunchback of Notre Dame. We didn't, but we DID have this wonderful period
Set in Salford, England in the 1890s, this David Lean film brims with good humor, spunk, fine black and white cinematography and absolutely first-rate acting. Charles Laughton plays Henry Horatio Hobson, a typical successful late Victorian Era businessman. One can almost picture him singing `A British bank is run with precision; a British home should expect nothing less,' as David Tomlinson would croon a decade later in Mary Poppins. A widower with three grown daughters, Hobson fancies himself to be king of his castle. Of course the daughters really wield the power-especially Maggie (Brenda de Banzie), the oldest.
When Hobson determines to marry off the two younger daughters, but declares Maggie too old for marrying (at 30), she takes it as a challenge. Virtually demanding marriage and a business partnership with her father's best shoemaker, Willie Mossop (John Mills), she engineers not only her own marriage but that of her sisters, as well.
Laughton was a true talent. I had never seen him do comedy. His round, rubber face is as expressive in Hobson's Choice as any comedian I have seen. His commanding stage presence is obvious. Many scenes stick in the mind, such as Hobson marching huffily toward his favorite watering hole, his lackey right behind him. With spirited march music playing, they stride through the street, making an amusing visual contrast. Laughton is tall, erect, and extremely rotund. He is headed straight forward, head held high and back arched proudly, as any proper self-made English gentleman of his day would be. His friend is perpetually hunched toward his benefactor, his thin, frail frame turned partially toward Laughton as he walks, intent on hearing and agreeing with every word Hobson utters. Others have already commented on the moon scene and his charge up the stairs after a night of drinking, both of which were delightful.
Of course de Banzie is magnificent as Maggie and Mills is great as Willie. His growth as the movie goes along is gradual and natural. The excitement of going out on their own, getting a loan and buying the needed supplies to open a business certainly connects with me. I have been there twice, although ultimately failing (at least on the bottom line) both times. Had I had a Maggie to support, encourage and inspire me, as well as to tend to the business side of things, I really believe I would have succeeded like Willie does. (Any Maggies out there???)
Daphne Anderson and Prunella Scales are very good as the attractive, but spoiled younger sisters. Obviously Maggie was raised in the earlier days when Hobson was building up his business and Vicky and Alice after he had acquired much of his affluence. The whole cast is extremely sound and Lean's direction is superb. I find myself surprised that I had NOT heard of Hobson's Choice. This is a dandy little film and a real plumb to have found as I found it. If you want to see a great film, either watch Hobson's Choice or watch another film with the VCR/DVD player unplugged. How's THAT for a `Hobson's choice?'
A far cry from the pomp and spectacle of Lean's later, grandiose
productions, this gently romantic comedy of manners is based on Harold
Brighouse's 1915 play, and sits alongside Great Expectations and Brief
Encounter as one of the best films he made in black and white. Lean's
restrained direction allows the sparkling scripts pithy banter plenty of
room to breathe, whilst deftly avoiding the static wordiness inherent to
most stage for screen adaptations.
At its core, Hobson's Choice has a towering performance by Charles Laughton, whose Henry Hobson is a marvelous mixture of snarling brute and whimpering child, huffing and sputtering his way through scene after scene of delightfully sexist dialogue. Crucially however, Laughton resists the temptation to go over the top, instead keeping his Hobson firmly on the plausible side of caricature, thus ensuring that the pathos of this potentially unlikeable character remains firmly intact, and whilst we eagerly await his comeuppance, we never lose sympathy for the curmudgeonly old fogey. Also outstanding is Brenda De Banzie as the long suffering but incredibly strong willed Maggie, an amazingly strong female character, made all the more remarkable given that the film has its origins in a text now 90 years old.
The crisp black and white photography, courtesy of Jack Hildyard(who also collaborated with Lean on his epic Bridge on the River Kwai) is stunning, beautifully capturing the grimy charm of its Victorian setting, and giving a vivid sense of gritty imtimacy to the dank interiors. Scenes featuring a drunken Hobson are gloriously realised, and gives rise to one of the films most enduring images, that of Hobson attacking the moons reflection in a puddle. Likewise, production design is impeccable, the crews recreation of Victorian era Salford even stretched to Lean throwing rubbish into the river Irwell(the council, on hearing that a film was to be made on location there, spared no expense clearing the riverbanks and water of any such refuse the week before cast and crew arrived, oblivious to the fact that this disarray was precisely the reason Lean and co. had chosen to shoot there).
This amiable comedy is often overlooked in favour of Leans more epic works, but to dismiss it out of hand as something the director cut his teeth on before moving on to better and brighter things would be a grave error. Its unassuming nature, and admittedly slightly saggy third act aside, it's a film with considerable charm, wit, eccentric characters and some hilarious set pieces.
Made by one of the greatest practitioners of film making ever, this is a superb story with excellent characters. I defy anyone not to enjoy Charles Laughton's towering performance. There is so much in this film to revel in. I love the way the men constantly think they are running the show when in fact the women are. Laughton clings on to the last vestiges of male power but is no match for his intelligent daughter played by Brenda de Banzie. The opening shot alone is superb with the wooden boot creaking in the wind. Although this is a slightly ominous first shot, the film soon becomes peppered with touches of comedy throughout. The scene when Hobson walks back from the Moonrakers pub is wonderful and sublime. Purely magical cinema as he looks at the moon reflected in the puddles and tries to catch it. Lean lets us take in the scene instead of rushing it. This film is often overlooked when people talk about Lean's oeuvre. I have no idea why.
Who isn't good in this film?
Brenda de Banzie (sp) was perfectly cast in this film and really worthy of mention! I love it when a woman knows what she wants and goes and sorts it out herself! Inspirational, especially for the 50s, and the victorian era it's set in!
John Mills, is always good, so that's no surprise, and you can't imagine anyone but Charles Laughton as Hobson.
The lack of an Oscar nomination, let alone award, just goes to show what a political and flavour-of-the-month farce it is. Is there really acting talent like this in 'Lord of the Rings'...?
This film is still one of my all time favourites. The acting is superb,
especially from Sir John Mills who delivers the most convincing piece
of acting I have seen. Every part of this film is a joy to watch, from
Charles Laughtons drunken behaviour to Brenda De Banzie's sheer
determination to get what she wants by forcing Mills' character to
stand up for himself once in his life.
They don't make films like this anymore, no profanity, no nudity and no innuendo.
A perfect family movie. You'd be mad to miss this next time you see it's coming on TV .
This delightful seldom aired little masterpiece of a movie is one of
David Lean's best, and one of my favourites.
Charles Laughton, John Mills, Brenda de Banzie, and all the supporting cast are on top form in this story (based on the play by Harold Brigham) about the goings-on in a Salford shoe shop.
Hobson, the hard drinking proprietor of the shop, is a "big fish in a little pond", but who gets his come-uppance by way of his eldest daughter and his erstwhile illiterate boot hand.
If you're looking for entertainment value, forget all those sumptuous looking blockbuster movies, which have great special effects but sometimes very little plot, this little black and white movie runs rings round them.
A great film with a great cast and a great director. The plot has Charles Laughton the owner of shoe shop that is run by his three daughters. Laughton is also a big drunk and his daughters want to get married but he won't let them. This is the third film I've seen of David Lean, after The bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia, and i think he's better at directing these kind of films. Charles Laughton is great and so is the rest of the cast. If you get a chance, watch it, you won't be disappointed.
Charles Laughton plays an alcoholic widower (and happy about it) with three
adult daughters. The oldest of them, Maggie (Brenda de Banzie), is 30, and
the other two are (I would guess) in their early 20s. He wants to marry off
the younger two, but the eldest he finds useful to his bootmaking business.
"You're too old," he tells her when she asks about her turn to be married.
Well, Laughton has raised his daughter to be too shrewd for his own good!
When faced with her father's challenge, she lands a fiancé within an hour.
He is Willie Mossop (John Mills), one of Laughton's own craftsmen (and thus
of a lower class). Earlier the same day, a rich woman had walked into the
bootshop for the sole purpose of praising Willie's master craftsmanship.
Maggie is a clever businesswoman, and she figures that she can help a man
with Willie's skill succeed. Laughton, of course, disapproves, but Maggie is
too strong willed. And, again, clever. She quickly and flawlessly develops
plans to come out above her father.
I haven't exactly said what the mood of this film is yet. It could be a drama, but it is a comedy of manners and class. It glides along with such an amazingly graceful wit, and it's oh so gentle. The budding relationship between Willie and Maggie is simply amazing to watch. The engagement and marriage begins as just a business engagement. I was actually worried that Maggie, so efficient, would destroy her husband's will. But she softens as she realizes what a lovable man she has shanghaied. The film contains one of the most remarkably funny sex scenes I can recall; well, pre-sex scene, of course. The couple's marriage day is winding to an end, and we see that Willie isn't quite sure what's to happen between them as he slowly gets ready for bed. We see how it all worked out the next morning when he won't even let his wife set a teacup and saucer down before he rushes at her with the first kiss of the morning.
It's also a lot of fun to see an old blowhard like Laughton's Hobson get his bubble burst. Laughton is easily one of the best actors in history. We have nothing half as good today. He's not especially likeable here, but he is awfully amusing. Near the film's open, the only way he can get up the stairs to bed while drunk is to do it at a sprint with his arms held out to balance. Lean's direction is quite good, as well. I am not extremely familiar with his entire career; I only know his three biggest films. I'm glad to have finally got to a humbler Lean. This is at least as good as Lawrence. I have to mention one other greatly subtle scene: Hobson, p****d in both the British and American meanings of the word, spies the reflection of the full moon in a puddle of rainwater. He imagines it looking down on him with contempt, so he rushes to it and stomps it. When the water becomes still again, the moon is back. Oh wait, no! It's not the moon, but Hobson's fat face filling in exactly where the moon had been! 9/10.
I was caught totally off-guard by this film. While I LOVE old films, I
never expected to be so captivated by this one--particularly since it's
not exactly the most famous movie of the time.
The acting and writing are what make this movie so wonderful. The main character, Charles Laughton, is a domineering old goat who decides to retire. When this is announced, his oldest (and seemingly not so pretty) daughter sets out to find a husband. While not exactly romantic in her methods, it is wonderful to see the transformation she makes in her hapless husband (John Mills). By the end of the film, I found myself laughing at the new man she had helped create! Give it a try--you won't be sorry.
Hobson's Choice is a delightful old play that is set in Manchester in
the United Kingdom during Edwardian times. Among other things we see
during this film adaption of it are temperance marchers and
suffragettes, reminders that women were too often looked on as chattel,
especially if the man of the house is one Henry H. Hobson.
Hobson's pretty typical of the male Britisher in Edwardian times. As written by Harold Brighouse and played Charles Laughton, he's a blustering old tyrant who dominates his three daughters in every way possible. His wife is gone and the three daughters as he views it seem to have been put on earth to serve him. He pays none of them wages to live independently, but without realizing it he's grown quite dependent on them. Especially on his eldest played by Brenda DaBanzie.
She's practically running his custom made boot&shoe establishment so he can spend time lounging at the pub. But DaBanzie has had quite enough of that. If Laughton had his way she'd be living with him permanently. Brenda's got different plans. She's got her idea on a husband, a skilled craftsman who works in Hobson's shop named Willy Mossop. He's a mild mannered fellow who doesn't realize his own worth. But before the film ends, the worm does indeed turn.
If Hobson's Choice has a fault it's that the whole film centers around the three principals, no other characters are really developed here. But Laughton, DaBanzie and John Mills as Willy Mossop give absolutely perfect characterizations in their respective roles.
Charles Laughton gives one of his best screen performances for David Lean in Hobson's Choice. Imagine Captain Bligh as a comic character and you've got Hobson. My guess is that Hobson was very typical of his age in his sexist views of life. What his late wife must have put up with. His scenes with Brenda DaBanzie have a lot of the same spark that characterize his work with his wife Elsa Lanchester in other films.
Brenda DaBanzie was at the height of her career, this and her work in The Man Who Knew Too Much the following year are her best known roles. She matches Laughton every step of the way, they are really a delight to see and listen to, in fact the dialog in their scenes is so good you can enjoy just turning away and listening to the film.
John Mills also gets one of his best roles. He's a man who grows in confidence in himself through DaBanzie's efforts. In the end watch who is dictating to whom.
A friend of mine who's from the Manchester area said that the film was shot in the nearby town of Selford because it looked more like Manchester of the Edwardian era than Manchester of 1954 did. He also says that Laughton and the rest of the cast got the dialog and idiom of the Lancashire area down perfectly and were quite believable in their parts for a British audience, let alone an American one.
Hobson's choice is a great film from David Lean and should be seen again and again whenever it's broadcast.
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