Producer: David Lean. Executive producer: Alexander Korda. A London Film Production, made in association with British Lion Film Corporation at Shepperton Studios, England. (Available on an excellent Optimum DVD). London Film Productions, copyright 18 June 1954 (in notice 1953) by British Lion Film Corporation, Ltd. Released in the U.S.A. by United Artists: 11 June 1954. New York opening at the Paris: 14 June 1954. U.K. release through British Lion: 19 April 1954. Australian release through Universal- International: 15 July 1954. Sydney opening at the Embassy. 9,675 feet. 107 minutes.
NOTES: One of the best films of 1954. — Bosley Crowther in The New York Times. Best British Film of 1954. — British Film Academy.
Third film version of the Brighouse play, originally filmed in 1920 by Percy Nash with Arthur Pitts as Hobson and Joan Ritz as Maggie. In the 1931 version, scripted by Frank Launder and directed by Thomas Bentley, James Harcourt played Hobson, Viola Lyel was Maggie, Frank Pettingell played Will, the wonderful Belle Chrystal essayed Vicky, Amy Veness was Mrs Hepworth, whilst two of the best character players in British cinema, Herbert Lomas and Kathleen Harrison, appeared as Jim Heeler and Ada Figgins, respectively.
COMMENT: Enlivened by one of Malcolm Arnold's finest scores, and brilliantly over-scored by the gloriously prickly acting of Charles Laughton who consummately steals every scene in which he appears, Hobson's Choice is such a gloriously engrossing delight, we can even forgive one or two dull passages with Mills and de Banzie — and a Third Act that isn't anywhere near as uproariously funny as the first two.
Fortunately, the brilliant David Lean is obviously aware of these shortcomings, for he's wisely retained the 1885 Lancashire setting of the Brighouse play, keeping it firmly in period throughout, with lots of grimy streets and cheek-by-jowl tenements brilliantly contrasted with the overstuffed bric-a-brac and crowded gew-gaws of the Hepworth drawing-room and the equally claustrophobic interiors of the various shops and establishments of Salford's main street.
The photography by Jack Hildyard reveals his mastery of black-and- white. (He then set out to conquer color, winning a Hollywood award for Bridge on the River Kwai and photographing such other prestige blockbusters as 55 Days at Peking, The V.I.P.s, Battle of the Bulge and Casino Royale, as well as movies like The Millionairess and The Sundowners).
Editing, art direction and costume design are likewise fine examples of superlative craftsmanship. In fact, all technical credits are absolutely top-grade. Director Lean obviously knows what he wants from the Brighouse play, and producer Lean has spared no expense in bringing the sets and characters to the screen.
But Hobson's Choice is not just compellingly or even uproariously picturesque. Nor is it just also farcically funny. But it's a wonderful study of various characters under duress and how, inspired by one rebellious radical in their midst, they overcome their shackles.
Although Laughton is rightly allowed to dominate the film, the other players too have their opportunities to make an impression. All seize those opportunities with such gusto, it would be wrong to single out one or two, but I'm going to anyway. The wonderful Helen Haye (see Wings of the Morning and The Man in Grey) stands up to Laughton with the wonderfully aggressive spirit of the rudely aristocratic rich (and even has no qualms in shaking down de Banzie for an usurious twenty per cent interest).
And much as we admire the Dickensian Gibb McLaughlin's "old womanish" Tudsbury, or the hanger-on Joseph Tomelty's crawling Heeler, or even the short-changing Julien Mitchell's hotelier, it's the slurping, straw-hatted Denton, so compellingly played by Philip Stainton that gets our number-one vote for best supporting actor.
All in all, despite one or two minor flaws, a gem of a movie.