Saturday, September 17, 2011

#461: Hobson's Choice

(David Lean, 1954)

I had one serious problem with Hobson's Choice. Maggie Hobson, in many ways the pivotal character in the film, is played by Brenda De Banzie, an actress who was clearly 45 at the time. Yet multiple times during the film they assure us that she is, in fact, 30. In many films this wouldn't be a serious problem - for example, the only slight difference in age between Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in The Graduate is easily overlooked. But here, Maggie is supposed to be wise and mature beyond her years, making the character more sympathetic and giving her plan to branch out on her own more of a sense of risk. Instead, she just seems expectedly wise and mature, and it often feels like she has more experience than her father, played by the great Charles Laughton, who was only ten years her senior in real life. It hurts the film because this is undoubtedly the most important relationship in the story and the casting decision makes it weaker.

Apart from this one misstep, however, Hobson's Choice is a breezy comedy in the classic British tradition. Lean was hardly known for his light fare, but this film - adapted from a play of the same name - shares many of the traditionally British elements around which his other black and white films are centered. It's also a beautiful and whimsical movie, particularly in moments when Laughton is left alone to wander the streets and roam through his imagination. It's not up to par with early Lean works like his adaptation of Great Expectations or Brief Encounter (my favorite Lean film), but it's not the kind of film made with these ambitions in mind. Then again, I'd rather watch the superb and sharp-witted Kind Hearts and Coronets when I'm in the mood for a quintessential Ealing comedy.

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