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?'