Hobson’s Choice (1954)


Selfish, overbearing businessman Henry Horatio Hobson (Charles Laughton, 1935’s Mutiny on the Bounty) has a hissy fit when his eldest daughter, Maggie (Brenda De Banzie, 1956’s The Man Who Knew Too Much), marries his dim-witted employee Willie Mossop (John Mills, Great Expectations). Hobson has to make a decision; accept the marriage or suffer the consequences.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Mr. Hobson, you’re a dunderheaded lump for obstinacy…”

Despite director David Lean’s reputation as a humorless director, this comedy-drama is a complete artistic success. Based on the play of the same name by Harold Brighouse, and adapted by director Lean, producer Norman Spencer (Great Expectations) and Wynyard Browne, Hobson’s Choice is an absolute delight from beginning to end.

Hobson’s Choice is what they used to call a “Lancashire comedy” (a reference to the northern part of the UK). I’m not British, so I have a hard time grasping the concept, but it seems that author Brighouse’s humor is very regional. That’s precisely why director Lean was apprehensive about making the movie. He was a Southerner and didn’t think he could do justice to the story. Lean changed his mind, and it turned out well in the end. In fact, I truly believe that Hobson’s Choice is one of Lean’s  very best films.

Hobson’s Choice is hilarious from beginning to end. There is one great sequence with Charles Laughton getting drunk and running after the moon — the sequence has been baptized as the “Dance of the Puddles.” The sequence not only showcases Lean’s technical expertise, but also displays Laughton’s fantastic comic timing. Speaking of Laughton, I can’t praise his work enough. Lean later referred to him as “the best actor I ever worked with” (filmmaker Billy Wilder said the same thing about Laughton).

The real surprise here is John Mills (the father of actresses Juliet and Hayley Mills), who displays his versatility as the illiterate Willie. Even Lean had doubts about him (Robert Donat, The 39 Steps, was Lean’s first choice), but Mills goes toe-to-toe with the great Laughton. On the other hand, Lean apparently didn’t like working with Brenda De Banzie, but I thought she was excellent too. All three actors are brilliant!

Malcom Arnold’s (The Sound Barrier and The Bridge on the River Kwai) playful and inventive music score is wonderful (he used a musical saw for the “Dance of the Puddles” sequence). It’s worth noting, too, that production designer Wilfred Shingleton spent a considerable amount of time getting the fantastic sets just right. Hobson’s Choice was beautifully shot by Jack Hildyard (The Sound Barrier and Summertime).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Hobson’s Choice is worth revisiting from time to time — it never loses its charm. In my opinion, this is a perfect comedy-drama, one of Lean’s very best movies. Highly recommended. With Prunella Scales (The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne), Daphne Anderson (The Prince and the Showgirl), and Helen Haye (The Spy in Black). Remade as a TV movie in 1983. B&W, 107 minutes, Not Rated.

4 responses to “Hobson’s Choice (1954)

  1. Delightful review of one of my all-time favorite movies. The play is amazing, and I got to see it in London in 2016 for its 100th year anniversary. But I’ll always love the film for its comments on class and protofeminism alongside amazing humor. Plus young Prunella Scales (later to play Sybil Fawlty).

    Liked by 1 person

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