Hobson's Choice

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This is a perfect little 1949 British comedy, directed by David Lean. Although Lean is best known for more serious fare (like Bridge Over the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago) this movie shows that those skills worked well on the funny side too.

The movie is set in late-19th century Salford, a town outside Manchester England. Charles Laughton plays widower Henry Hobson, proprietor of a boot shop. He's "in charge", but it soon becomes clear that his three daughters are actually running things, doing most of the business work, while the bootmakers toil away in the cellar, most notably the gifted Willie Mossop. Henry mainly likes to drink.

But one day Henry decides it's time to marry off his two youngest daughters. But not the eldest, Maggie; she's too old, and (more importantly) much too useful in the business. This infuriates no-nonsense Maggie, and—as near as I can tell, within the space of about three seconds—resolves to marry the talented Willie Mossop, and start up their own boot business across town. And to the consternated surprise of everyone (most especially Willie) that's exactly what happens.

Hobson is probably the quintessential Male Chauvinist Pig, and Laughton is physically perfect in that role. But he's also endearing; we don't hate him, we just want to see Maggie and Willie get out from under his thumb.

And next time someone compiles a list of the best libertarian movies of all time, I have to remember to nominate this. It does a great job of showing how capitalism liberates people from being stuck in the traditional roles their class or sex might otherwise resign them to.

(An impossibly young Prunella Scales, Sybil Fawlty herself, plays one of the daughters.)

Last Modified 2012-10-07 7:55 AM EST