Henry Horatio Hobson (Charles Laughton, Witness for the Prosecution), a selfish and tyrannical businessman, has a hissy fit when his eldest daughter, Maggie (Brenda De Banzie, The Entertainer), decides to marry his dim-witted employee, Willie (John Mills, In Which We Serve). However, strong-willed Maggie gives her stubborn father an ultimatum: accept the marriage or suffer the consequences.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Mr. Hobson, you’re a dunderheaded lump for obstinacy…”
Based on a play of the same name by celebrated dramatist Harold Brighouse, and adapted by director David Lean, producer Norman Spencer (Great Expectations) and Wynyard Browne (The Holly and the Ivy), Hobson’s Choice is a complete artistic success — this is the kind of movie that gets better with repeated viewings.
Hobson’s Choice is known as a “Lancashire comedy,” a style of humor from the northern part of England. That’s precisely why director Lean was initially apprehensive about making the movie. As a proud southern Briton, Lean didn’t think he could do justice to the story’s regional humor. Lean was somewhat persuaded to make the movie (producer Alexander Korda was instrumental in getting Lean to accept the project). After all is said and done, Hobson’s Choice is one of Lean’s 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 actor 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!
Malcolm 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 filmmakers David 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.