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Saturday, January 2, 2010

HOBSON’S CHOICE (1954)


David Lean left the cozy comforts (and limited budgets) of the British film world with an unlikely and still underappreciated masterpiece; a quirky capitalist comedy that plays like a determinist burlesque of KING LEAR. Charles Laughton is Hobson, a widowed shopkeeper with three grown daughters he uses as free labor to run his house & store. The younger two are now engaged, but surely his eldest (a spinster-in-waiting) will stay on to run things. Not if she can help it. The attention to detail in William Shingleton’s art design as captured in Jack Hildyard’s lensing brings Lean’s British house-style to a sumptuous climax. And the whole cast is a marvel. Brenda de Banzie, in triumphant form, makes the sharp, ambitious eldest daughter a paragon of no-nonsense womanhood. When she takes her situation in hand and establishes her own bootery with Papa’s best cobbler (John Mills in a matchless turn), the entrepreneurial instinct acquires a becoming proto-feminist slant. The expectations of class privilege are no match for the rise of small business meritocracy. And Lean doesn’t back off from showing the incipient dangers in the new order. Laughton’s drunken ‘moon walk’ is often excerpted as a comic highlight, while an unwanted slice of wedding cake is just as exceptional, but this perf is too rich for a highlights reels. The entire production is a highlight.

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