Not a Bunch of Old Cobblers
Henry Hobson (Charles Laughton - Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd) is many things; a successful businessman with his own boot-makers, a lover of a tipple at the pub opposite his business and a widowed father of three women. He also thinks that his daughters should do what he says which is run the business, make him dinner and never to marry as it costs money. His eldest Maggie (Brenda de Banzie - The 39 Steps) has had enough of her father's bossing ways and manipulates his best boot-maker Willie Mossop (John Mills - The Long Memory) to not only marry her but set up a rival boot-makers business. Having escaped her father's clutches Maggie then sets about helping her sisters Vicky (Prunella Scales) and Alice (Daphne Anderson) do exactly the same. But in doing so it has a detrimental effect on Henry's business and health.
What was David Lean's best movie? There are plenty of popular movies to choose from; "Lawrence of Arabia", "The Bridge on the River Kwai" or "Doctor Zhivago" all instantly spring to mind. But I would like to suggest that "Hobson's Choice" could top them all as whilst not the epic spectacle of those movies this smaller comedy is just as rich as those movies in every department. And with it not being an epic tale or a sprawling drama it is much easier to watch, an 107 minute master piece which will appeal to anyone who loves character based comedy.
But before I get to either the comedy or the characters which go hand in hand it has to be said that Lean picked a stunning setting. The streets of Salford is a rich backdrop lush in real detail which just draws us in be it the birds hanging in a butcher's window or the glistening cobbles of the street. It's not just the exteriors as the interiors are just as fantastic and something as simple as the richness of the grain of wood which is over the window in Henry's bedroom just makes it feel real, as if we are in an old room above a shop. I could go on for ever about the look as every single scene is full of detail which makes it beautiful.
Then there is the comedy which goes hand in hand with the characters because David Lean who wrote the screenplay also created characters as rich in detail as the back drop. From Henry being a blustering old businessman stuck in his ways and constantly down the pub to Maggie being a tough cookie who uses everything she has learned because of Henry's laziness these are entertaining characters who are detailed but also amusing. And they all fire off each other in such a way that every scene is simply fantastic and as such all the performances especially those of Laughton, Mills and de Banzie are first rate. These three create characters who you could happily watch all day long as they gel so perfectly together.
The irony of all this is that because Lean creates such a visually rich setting with great characters and gets great performances from his stars that the actual storyline comes right down the pecking order. But don't worry as there is nothing in the least bit wrong with the story as it is an amusing tale of Henry Hobson being taught a lesson thanks to his smart daughter Maggie and boot-maker Willie who is the real reason why Hobson's business did so well. And because "Hobson's Choice" isn't some grand, sweeping drama but just a fun comedy with heart it is easy to watch again and again which is what you will want to do after watching for the first time.
What this all boils down to is that for "Hobson's Choice" is up there with David Lean's best movies and whilst not a sweeping epic it has the same richness and depth but with the added benefit of wonderful humour and amusing characters.