Hobson's Choice

1954, Movie, NR, 107 mins


Laughton is marvelous in this wry comedy as the crusty old curmudgeon who rules his profitable boot shop and his three unmarried daughters with an iron hand. He hypocritically downs his pints of ale at the local pub and cries out against the inhumanity of life at leaving him a widower. His eldest daughter, de Banzie, is 30 and, in Laughton's words, "on the shelf." Undaunted, she finds herself a husband in the form of the self-effacing, illiterate, and ambitionless Mills, Laughton's assistant and chief bootmaker for the firm.

Mills is a bit dumbfounded when being led to the altar and even more puzzled when de Banzie sets him up in his own bootmaking business after Laughton refuses to award de Banzie a dowry. With de Banzie brainstorming the business, Mills's shop grows and he prospers, so much so that he begins to make inroads into Laughton's once dominant operation.

This is a fully developed comedy of human foibles and follies with Laughton rendering a masterful, sly performance, beautifully supported by de Banzie and Mills. Laughton, who played the role on stage years earlier, was reputedly unhappy on the set; he developed a dislike for de Banzie (who, incredibly, almost upstages Laughton, himself a consummate upstager) and he didn't care for Mills in the role of Willie Mossop, a part he'd wanted Robert Donat to play. Lean's direction is careful and properly mannered as he draws forth one poignant scene after another, some painful, others full of mirth.

Arnold's inventive score adds considerable charm to this best of three versions of Harold Brighouse's 1915 stage comedy (filmed in 1920 as a silent with Arthur Pitt and Joan Ritz, and again as a talkie in 1931 with James Harcourt and Viola Lyel). This film rightly won the Best British Film Award in 1954. leave a comment

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