2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
David Lean, Charles Laughton, John Mills and, especially, Brenda De Banzie, make a fine film,
This review is from: Hobson's Choice [VHS]  (VHS Tape)
For those who didn't know, and I was one of them, a Hobson's choice is a free choice, but where only one option is really available. At the end of Hobson's Choice, a fine, vulgar, poignant and very funny film directed by David Lean, this is what Henry Horatio Hobson faces. Elements of the plot are discussed.
Hobson (Charles Laughton) is a prosperous shoe and boot merchant in the small town of Salford, England. The time is the 1880s. Hobson is a widower, a blusterer, a man accustomed to his comforts, his drink and his ease. He is, thanks to Laughton, larger than life, a man we can laugh at but not a man we'd probably want as a neighbor. He has three daughters. Maggie (Brenda De Banzie) is 30. She is, says her father, "a bit ripe" for marriage at her age, and he plans to keep it that way. Maggie runs the store, keeps the books, sees to dinner and keeps the home above the store neat. Henry Hobson, or course, doesn't pay her wages because she is, after all, his daughter. His two younger daughters both have suitors, and that's just fine with him until he realizes he must give them dowries if they are to marry. There'll be no dowries from Henry Hobson.
And now we watch Maggie come into her own. She is a plain woman with an iron will, a determination that recognizes no barriers, and a very shrewd mind. If she is ever to get away from her father, she will have to find a man to marry her. And now we meet Willie Mossop (John Mills), the shoe worker who makes the shoes in the dingy basement under the store. Willie is just about illiterate, shy to a fault, naive, slow, honest and with very dirty hands. He is quite satisfied to stay in the basement making shoes. In Willie Mossop, however, Maggie sees not just escape from her father, but a man who makes marvelous shoes, and a man she could make into a success with his own...their own...shop. She knows she can do this, and she'll find a way to secure dowries from their father for her two sisters while she's at it. It should come as no surprise that Maggie accomplishes all she sets out to do; that Willie becomes William Mossop whose shoes sell, who is endearing and honest and who has a far better haircut after Maggie takes charge. While Henry Hobson roars about, deep in the drink, full of self-pity and bluster (and as entertaining as only Charles Laughton could make him), we settle back and enjoy the sight of Maggie using her head, with energy and determination, to get the better of her old rogue of a father. Maggie not only finds Willie, but love, too. By the end of the movie, we've come to know a contented and successful couple, and William with Maggie by his side have given Henry Hobson a choice he would be foolish to refuse.
This is a vastly entertaining and satisfying movie, thanks to Lean, Laughton, Mills and, especially De Banzie. Laughton came to loath De Banzie during the filming, and the reason is as plain as De Banzie's plain but attractive face. The movie ostensibly is a showcase for Laughton. He plays Hobson bolder than life, vulgar, squinting, staggering drunk, too smart for his own good...a man full of faults and foibles we can laugh at more readily than laugh with. He has two major bits playing the drunk or hungover Hobson and he's very good. There are two major sly and finagling scenes with him which are even better. But Brenda De Banzie, a marvelous actor, steals the show. Just as Maggie carries the day, it is De Banzie who carries the movie. Laughton must have realized this would happen during their first scenes together. De Banzie starts by giving us a no-nonsense woman who knows how to get things done. Her decision to make Willie Mossop her man, to marry him, slowly lets us see just a little vulnerability. She's not going to take "no" from Willie, she will make him a success, but we begin to realize without her saying a word that she wants Willie to not find her unattractive. Their wedding night and the morning after is played for smiles, but they're tender smiles. We realize that Maggie made a good choice in Willie and that Willie realizes just how lucky he was. Henry Hobson may continue to bluster, enjoy his drink, expect his comforts and make us appreciate Laughton's bits of over-acting, but it is Maggie and William we feel good about. Together, they're going to be running things...and successfully, too.
The movie deserves a first-rate DVD treatment, along with some long over-due recognition of just how fine an actor Brenda De Banzie was.