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HOBSON’S CHOICE (director/writer: David Lean; screenwriters: Norman Spencer/Wynyard Browne/from the play by Harold Brighouse; cinematographer: Jack Hildyard; editor: Peter Taylor; music: Malcolm Arnold; cast: Charles Laughton (Henry Horatio Hobson), John Mills (Willie Mossop), Brenda De Banzie (Maggie Hobson), Daphne Anderson (Alice Hobson), Prunella Scales (Vicky Hobson), Richard Wattis (Albert Prosser), Derek Blomfield (Freddy Beenstock), Jack Howarth (Tubby Wadlow), Helen Haye (Mrs. Hepworth), John Laurie (Dr. MacFarlane); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David Lean; United Artists; 1954-UK)
“A pure joy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title is a 17th century term that means the illusion of choice where there really is no alternative, which fits this very funny Victorian working-class comedy to a tee. This sterling adaptation of Harold Brighouse’s play was first performed in 1916, and has since been a popular part of the London stage scene. Filmmaker David Lean (“Doctor Zhivago”/”Ryan’s Daughter”/”Brief Encounter “), in one of his early works, does a marvelous job making this slight comedy a pure joy; he’s greatly helped by a taut script from Norman Spencer and Wynyard Browne and the superb performances of the entire cast, especially the endearing performances of the blustery blowhard Charles Laughton, the domineering oldest daughter Brenda De Banziem and the meek bootmaker John Mills. It depicts an obstinate 1890s shopkeeper’s dysfunctional family that undergoes some severe changes, where he learns the hard way that his oldest daughter has outsmarted him.

The crusty tyrannical old sod of a drunk, pretending to be a Temperance man for business purposes, Henry Horatio Hobson (Charles Laughton), is a prosperous owner of a boot shop and a widower with three single daughters, the youngest Vicky (Prunella Scales), the middle daughter Alice (Daphne Anderson) and the 30-year-old plain looking spinster but most reliable one named Maggie (Brenda De Banziem). The greedy bullying grouch pays them no wages and rules them with an iron hand, and when the two youngest request marriage he refuses to pay the customary dowry settlement and thereby their chances for marriage are put on hold. The shock comes when Maggie defies her oafish father’s authority and marries his illiterate, beaten down and ambition-less master bootmaker, Willie Mossop (John Mills), the best bootmaker in Lancashire, in the north of England, and opens a rival shop that after a year takes away most of Hobson’s business. The shrewd daughter is also able to cunningly free her two sisters from their father’s selfish clutches and allow them to take husbands of their own choosing. Maggie is the business brain and Willy is the talented bootmaker, who evolves from being a backward cluck to gaining confidence and moving up the social ladder as a shop owner. Willie helps his wife serve the boastful and cruel patriarch a further comeuppance when his health fails because of his drinking problem and he has to take Willie in as a partner to save his declining business, while he’s reduced to being just the silent partner (which becomes the reason for the title).

This timeless comedy won the Best British Film Award in 1954.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”