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The Criterion Collection presents
Hobson's Choice (1954)

"Female perversity comes from leading an indoor life. Women think they're important because they're boss in kitchen."
- Henry Hobson (Charles Laughton)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: February 16, 2009

Stars: Charles Laughton
Other Stars: Brenda De Banzie, John Mills, Daphne Anderson, Prunella Scales, Richard Wattis, Derek Blomfield, Helen Haye, Joseph Tomelty, Julien Mitchell, Gibb McLaughlin, Philip Stainton, Dorothy Gordon, Madge Brindley, John Laurie, Jack Howarth, Raymond Huntley
Director: David Lean

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:48m:03s
Release Date: February 17, 2009
UPC: 715515042116
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

David Lean is perhaps best remembered for directing grand dramatic epics such as The Bridge On The River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence Of Arabia, and A Passage To India. And while that's not a bad lot of films to have on a resume, the director also dabbled in light comedy early in his career.

Lean chose pair of fairly popular plays—Noel Coward's The Blithe Spirit in 1945 and Harold Brighouse's Hobson's Choice in 1954—as source material, and with the latter gave Charles Laughton an opportunity to deliver yet another memorable performance, though certainly one that flies below the popular of other classic characters he had already brought to the screen like Quasimodo and Captain Bligh.

Set in Victorian Northern England, stars Laughton as Henry Hobson, widowed proprietor of a moderately successful boot shop. Hobson—plain and simple—is a drunk, and his oafish "king of the castle" routine is constantly testing the mettle of his three grown daughters, all of whom live and work together at the shop. After deciding that 30-year-old daughter Maggie (Brenda De Banzie)—clearly the business brains of the Hobson operation—is too old to find a husband, he decides to try and marry off his two younger bustle-wearing daughters, Alice (Daphne Anderson) and Vicky (Prunella Scales), to men of his choosing, unaware that they already have been courting right under his nose. The big comedic twist occurs when Maggie decides to upset the familial applecart by suddenly wedding Hobson's uneducated bootsmith Will Mossop (John Mills), who just happens to be one of the finest bootmakers in Northern England.

When Maggie decides to open her own rival boot shop with Will, the stage is set for an explosive and comic father-daughter relationship, one that, thankfully for viewers, allows Laughton's Hobson the chance to drink excessively and become what one character angrily refers to as "a dunderheaded lump of obstinacy." Laughton—all belly, jowls, and attitude—barrels through life like he owns it, unaware, it seems, of his own inadequacies and imperfections. Late in the film he loudly reprimands a doctor who prescribes temperance, though this is long after one of Hobson's alcohol-fueled verbal attacks on his drinking buddies has literally dropped him to a new low. Hobson—the self-described "big fish in a little pond"—may not be especially likeable, but Laughton imbues the character with a kind of pathetic charm.

Yet for as dominant as Laughton is here, the emotional center goes to Brenda De Banzie and John Mills, who develop an odd alliance that becomes not only a marriage, but a business. The none-so-subtle glimmers of the brash Henry Hobson come through with his forcefully independent daughter Maggie (De Banzie). She issues a stream of orders to the meek and gentle Will Mossop (Mills), forcing a courtship out of spite and business out of determination, while poor Will is, at the outset, simply her nervous puppet.

And their wedding night sequence is a sweet bit of anxious comedy—Will realizing that consummation is about to occur and pondering what his first move should be. Or if there should be one at all. It's a long, silent scene that unfolds slowly, but builds to a simple laugh-out-loud moment from Mills. The whole sequence seems a suggestive bit of humor for the mid-1950s, and though all we eventually see is a light going out under the door, it's fairly obvious what's about to take place.

Lean doesn't simply stage this as a boxy filmed play, and along with D.P. Jack Hildyard (The Bridge on the River Kwai) peppers the production with an assortment of clever camera angles and unusual visual touches (Hobson's delirium tremens feature a horde of buzzing insects and a ghostly giant white rat). The period look of famed Shepperton Studios never gives this the feeling that much of it was shot in a studio, as the camera moves through buildings and down twisty cobblestone streets. And though Lean also incorporates some actual location footage into the final product, the sense that we are anywhere but in Victorian England is never in question.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A beautiful effort from Criterion—and if you need convincing just take a look at the sketchy quality of the theatrical trailer. Presented in 1.33:1 fullframe (with minute black bars on all four sides), Lean's black-and-white period comedy looks immaculate, clean and devoid of any debris, sporting solid contrast levels throughout.


Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. Voices are clear, but the memorably bouncy Malcolm Arnold score sounds resplendent and lively. As expected with a film of this vintage, there's not much room to dress this mix up, yet the simplicity and clarity of the track is quite understated, and naturally there's an absence of any hiss, pop, or crackle.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: clear plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Don't be put off by the seemingly skimpy extras, because what's here is quality stuff. A 14-page insert is anchored by a scholarly article on the film entitled Custom-Made, by film critic Armond White. This plays well next to the equally educational commentary track from Alain Silver and James Ursini, coauthors of the book David Lean and His Films. Silver and Ursini seem to barely take a breath as they regurgitate all manner of insightful comments, ranging from the variations from the play to film, as well as pointing out the derivation of some early and distinctive Lean-style moments.

The Hollywood Greats: Charles Laughton (44m:22s) is a 1978 BBC doc featuring such luminaries as Billy Wilder, Lillian Gish, and Laughton's wife Elsa Lanchester. But don't expect a total puff piece; it's more of a warts-and-all approach, especially when it comes to discussing Laughton's sexuality and personality.

The disc, housed in a clear plastic keepcase, is cut into 13 chapters, and features optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Mention esteemed director David Lean and the name brings to mind The Bridge On The River Kwai or Lawrence Of Arabia, but Criterion has resurrected this overlooked 1954 Victorian-era comedy featuring Charles Laughton as boozy, arrogant patriarch boot shop owner Henry Hobson.

The black-and-white transfer is beautiful, and the film is absolutely charming.

Highly recommended.


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