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 225: Tunes of Glory (1960)

I don’t think the liner notes are wrong to suggest this 1960 film is an underrated classic: like a lot of British movies of the period — ones which rely on solid acting and their carefully scripted themes — it sort of gets lost amongst the various European New Wave films which were making a splash with formal innovations and a looser street-bound sense of place. Instead this is largely based in the single setting, a barracks in Edinburgh, where two military officers with contrasting management styles face off against one another: the rowdy and boisterous (and flame-haired Scot) played by Alec Guinness, and his replacement, the controlled authoritarian Englishman played by John Mills. It becomes a film about the reverberations of class throughout the power hierarchies of British life, not to mention — at a more quotidian level — what it’s like to work under a bad manager. Both leads do excellent acting work, and there’s a coolness to the colour cinematography that’s also striking.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Ronald Neame; Writer James Kennaway (based on his own novel); Cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson; Starring Alec Guinness, John Mills, Susannah York, John Fraser; Length 106 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 26 August 2018.

Criterion Sunday 31: Great Expectations (1946)

A handsomely-mounted prestige production from a famous literary work, there’s probably nothing particularly revolutionary in David Lean’s Dickens adaptation, but it’s still a pleasant two hours’ viewing. The central role of Pip is played by John Mills, an actor already far too old to convince as a twenty-something, though he captures a certain wide-eyed naïveté. Much better is Alec Guinness as his fey living companion Herbert. Valerie Hobson rounds out the main cast as the stand-offish object of Pip’s affections, Estella, tutored by the fusty Victorian spinster Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt). There’s some good use of contrast and shadows in the black-and-white cinematography (though this was pushed further in his second Dickens film of Oliver Twist).


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director David Lean; Writers Lean, Ronald Neame and Anthony Havelock-Allan (based on the novel by Charles Dickens); Cinematographer Guy Green; Starring John Mills, Valerie Hobson, Alec Guinness, Martita Hunt; Length 113 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 5 April 2015.