Friday, August 02, 2013

"Hobson's Choice": David Lean's classic comedy about patriarchy in Victorian England

I remember the term “Hobson’s Choice” from my boyhood as an encounter with “two things you don’t like”.  Actually, it’s means more “take it or leave it”, a term that originated from the way a horse stableman in Victorian England treated some customers.
So it is with the 1954 David Lean film “Hobson’s Choice”, which I think I vaguely remember seeing with my parents as a boy in the “neighborhoods”.  It would have played at the MacArthur or Ontario “downtown” in DC then;  at the time, going into town for a movie (the “Capitol”, “Palace”, “Columbia”, “RKP Keiths”, and “Warner” (for Cinerama), all clustered together near the streetcars, was a big event.  Places like the Ontario were more likely to show British or foreign films.  I remember seeing Lucille Ball and “The Long.. Trailer” downtown, and laughing when Lucy fell into the mud.
Hobson’s Choice” (based on a play by Harold Brighouse) is a comedy, too, a manners romantic comedy, of the type popular in the 50’s but not so much today.  Charles Laughton plays the patriarchal Henry Horatio Hobson in rural 1880s England.   Hobson runs a boot shop and treats his three daughters as slave daughter, and insists he will pick out husbands for his girls just when he feels like it.  Early in the movie he utters a metaphor comparing marriage to “the measles”.  (Oh, the movie is in black and white.) Particularly the oldest girl Maggie (Brenda de Banzie), whom he depends on so much, is in danger of becoming a spinster (or “old maid” as in the card game).  But then Maggie marries the shy employee Will (John Mills), and together they build a competing shop that practically drives Hobson out of business.  A libertarian movie, perhaps.   No, Will doesn’t seem much like the likeable character by that name in “Days of our Lives”.

Malcolm Arnold, British composer known for some engaging symphonies, wrote the rather light-hearted score  

The film was originally released by United Artists (from “London Films”  and British MGM), and then passed on to Janus Films, and now is part of the “Criterion Collection” of DVD’s on Netflix.  

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