Hobson’s Choice: Criterion Collection
March 10, 2009
Hobson’s Choice (1954) is based on the play of the same name by Harold Brighouse, which was first performed in the United States in 1915 and became popular in England soon after for its farcical take on the country’s culture and humour. Lean’s film has become regarded as a classic profile of British manners.
Henry Hobson (Laughton) is a blustery, opinionated boot maker in Victorian era England. He arrives in his store one day quite drunk (which, by the sounds of it, is a common occurrence) and greets his eldest daughter Maggie (De Banzie) with the backhanded compliment, “You’re tough, ancient leather. But I like leather.” Hobson races up the stairs to his bedroom with all of the grace and reckless abandon of a drunken Charlie Chaplin.
Maggie is one of three daughters that take care of their father seeing as how their mother has been dead for some time. They provide order in his life and in return he acts like an overbearing tyrant towards them. Hobson even refers to them at one point as “the rebellious females of this household.” He’s pretty good at intimidating potential suitors for his two younger daughters because he feels that it is up to him to pick their husbands. When he’s not bossing around his children, Hobson is fond of hanging out in the local pub with a group of his fellow shop owners.
However, in regards to Maggie, he feels that she’s past the marrying age as he so eloquently puts it. Even she’s only 30-years-old, he tells her that she’s “Thirty and shelved.” He condescends to Maggie, expecting her to be a mother to her two sisters. However, she challenges her father’s authority by entering into a professional and romantic partnership with Will Mossop (Mills), her father’s best bootsmith. Naturally, he’s not thrilled with her plans and what ensues is a witty and amusing battle of wills.
David Lean’s film pokes fun at Hobson’s bluster and buffoonish nature which Charles Laughton plays to the hilt with great skill. Hobson can be a self-important tyrant with his daughters one minute and then sucking up to a wealthy client the next moment. Brenda De Banzie is Laughton’s ideal foil as the strong-willed Maggie. She knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to get it as evident in the scene where she goes to Will’s boarding house and informs his girlfriend and her mother that she’s marrying the hapless bootsmith.
David Lean was not known for his comedies, only making two in his career, including Hobson’s Choice, which makes one wish that he had made more. He was known for applying his own unique brand of perfectionism to every film he made and this one is no different.
There is an audio commentary by film historians and co-authors of David Lean and His Films, Alain Silver and James Ursini. They start, appropriately enough, with the origins of the film. Producer Alexander Korda brought Lean the play and also brought Charles Laughton on board as the film’s star. Silver and Ursini point out that this was Lean’s last black and white film, as well as the last one set in period London. They do a good job of putting Hobson’s Choice in the context of Lean’s career and examine its themes.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
“The Hollywood Greats: Charles Laughton” is a 1978 BBC documentary about the life and career of this legendary actor. Friends, family and contemporaries in cinema, like film director Billy Wilder, speak highly and honestly about Laughton. He was alternately arrogant and insecure, capable of brilliance and also made films simply for the money.