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J.A.A. Purves

Hobson's Choice (1954)

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Ok, except for Chattaway's mention of this film in order to identify John Mills here, it doesn't look like there's a thread for this one yet. I just saw it again after what? maybe 10-15 years, and I was surprised at how fantastic of a film this is. If you've never seen it before, you're in for a treat. Essentially, it's a story about a drunken hilariously tyrannical father, his three daughters (including one incredibly strong-willed one), their boot shop, and their boot maker.

The romance in the story is not your typical romance - it's a strong Victorian lady who practically forces herself upon a doormat (almost you think, just to spite her father). But then something magical happens. The romance turns real after all ... and the doormat of a man learns how not to be a doormat and how to be a man (both with the loving help of, and against the will of, his incredibly domineering wife).

The comedy in the story is perfect also. How can you not love Charles Laughton? (except maybe when watching Mutiny on the Bounty, nah, still gotta love him there too). The guy was a genius. He can be horribly mean and wonderfully loveable, both at the same time. In different scenes in this film, his character Hobson somehow manages to be incredibly pathetic, stalwartly heroic, hilariously naive, and subtly cunning - all at the same time. His character alone makes the film worth it simply for the looks on his face whenever he sees a temperance league poster. John Mills physically gets larger during this movie. I think he must grow two feet in height by the time the story is over. And Brenda De Banzie is ... well, I don't think I've seen her in anything else before ... but she's perfect for Maggie, and she makes believable paradoxes out of both her relationships with her father and her new husband.

Did I mention the musical score? I can't get the tune out of my head still, and it's a couple days later. And apparently it's all available right here!

Still not convinced? Simply take the next couple minutes to get a hint of the music and to watch Laughton's grand entrance onto the screen here -


Edited by Persiflage

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A classic, to be sure.

This was one of the first films my father taped off of TV, using the VCR he bought in the late '70s, so I've had that music and a few choice lines from the film stuck in my head for pretty much my entire life. ("Well then to hell with the fashion!" etc.)

But it wasn't until YEARS later -- after I fell in love with Lawrence of Arabia (1962) following the restoration of that film in 1989 -- that I realized Hobson's Choice had been directed by the same guy as that classic war epic. (I remember sitting at a family reunion with my sister and my aunt, and the three of us saying what our favorite movies were. I said Lawrence of Arabia, my aunt said Doctor Zhivago (1965), and my sister said Hobson's Choice. And I got a kick out of the fact that all three films -- which are all really quite different from one another -- had been directed by the same guy.)

BTW, Persiflage, one thing you didn't mention here is that one of the three sisters is played by Prunella Scales, who would go on to play John Cleese's wife over 20 years later in Fawlty Towers (1975-1979). Plus, the music that you so rightly admire was written by Malcolm Arnold, who wrote a very different kind of score for David Lean's other wartime classic, Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).

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FWIW, it occurs to me that this was probably David Lean's last black-and-white film, and in a way it was his last English film, too -- or at least his last film set entirely or even primarily within England.

After this, what did he make?

  • Summertime (1955), about an American (Katherine Hepburn) in Venice.
  • Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), set primarily in a Japanese prison camp during World War II.
  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962), set almost entirely in the Middle East during the Arab Revolt (1916-1918).
  • Doctor Zhivago (1965), set in Russia before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution (1917).
  • Ryan's Daughter (1970), set in Ireland during the Easter Rising (1916).
  • A Passage to India (1984), set in India.

Y'know, I don't know if I'd realized before that Lean made three films in a row that all took place toward the end of World War I. (And they all concern popular or quasi-popular uprisings against imperial powers; see also the one film Lean made afterwards, which takes place in India at a time when the Indian independence movement was gaining traction.)

Anyway. Only one of those films takes place primarily in the British Isles, and even then, the film in question (Ryan's Daughter) takes place in Ireland rather than in Britain per se. So Hobson's Choice kind of marks the end of an era in Lean's filmography.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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