Criterion Sunday 461: Hobson’s Choice (1954)

Not sure why I should be suspicious every time I start a David Lean film, but he knew how to craft a movie and most that I’ve seen have been exceptionally well crafted, and not all of them have attained the renown of, say, Lawrence of Arabia or Brief Encounter. The cannily observed The Passionate Friends is a personal highlight, for example, and while this particular film looks to be a rather knockabout comedy — it casts Charles Laughton as a drunken bootmaker in late-19th century Salford (just outside Manchester), and that’s a recipe for comic disaster — it turns out to be, if not social realism, still a fairly incisive work about the English working classes. The title comes from a phrase referring to having no effective control over a situation, and his daughter Maggie (Brenda De Banzie) is the one offering Henry Hobson that particular ‘choice’, as she takes control of her own future within the (fairly mean) terms that society is offering her. I wouldn’t call it a progressive film, but it feels moreso than some of what would come out of English society in the decades after this, and at its heart is a delightful romantic fantasy about getting one up on the small-minded mean-spirited small town forces of conformity.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director David Lean; Writers Wynyard Browne, Lean and Norman Spencer (based on the play by Harold Brighouse); Cinematographer Jack Hildyard; Starring Charles Laughton, Brenda De Banzie, John Mills, Daphne Anderson, Prunella Scales; Length 108 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), Wellington, Friday 10 September 2021.

Criterion Sunday 22: Summertime (aka Summer Madness, 1955)

David Lean has always been an exemplar of a certain cinema-of-quality within the English-speaking firmament (big overstuffed period pieces, later taken up by Merchant & Ivory), so I didn’t expect much from this tourist’s point-of-view story of romance in Venice. It is indeed filled with picture postcard views as might befit the American tourist on holiday — albeit ones shot with an exemplary eye by cinematographer Jack Hildyard, packed with saturated colours and beautiful light — but there’s a surprising depth of pathos to the characters. Katharine Hepburn’s Ohio-born school secretary Jane, overseas for the first time, is shot through with an indefinable sadness, expressed through her buttoned-up (if nevertheless fashionable) dress sense and cheerful embrace of the pleasures of a solitary drink. Her repression is never explained precisely, but it’s suggested during her halting romance with Venice native Renato (Rossano Brazzi) that this is her first time in love. It’s a bittersweet story which doesn’t condescend to its two lead characters, though there’s plenty of caricature to be found amongst the supporting roles. Chiefly though, it’s Hepburn’s subtle performance and the Venice scenery which do much of the work here.

Criterion Extras: More than most releases, this one really is bare bones, having only a trailer on it. The focus of course is in the film transfer, which is excellent.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director David Lean; Writers H. E. Bates and Lean (based on the play The Time of the Cuckoo by Arthur Laurents); Cinematographer Jack Hildyard; Starring Katharine Hepburn, Rossano Brazzi; Length 100 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), London, Sunday 15 February 2015.