I have a couple of new film essays on Turner Classic Movies for features playing this month. Up first is the David Lean comedy Hobson’s Choice (1954):
Charles Laughton stars as the blustery Henry Hobson, a widower with a thriving business in boots and shoes and three daughters who work his shop without wages. Alice (Daphne Anderson) and Vicky (Prunella Scales) are young, pretty, empty-headed things with flirtatious natures who are actively courted by the sons of local businessmen. Maggie (Brenda De Banzie), the eldest, runs the shop and the home with hardheaded practicality. When Hobson dismisses Maggie’s desire for a husband, branding her an old maid (at the age of thirty) and sentencing her to a life looking after him and running his shop, she rebels against his blithe tyranny and takes her future into her own hands. She sets out to remake her life and embark on her own business, one in direct competition to her father’s boot shop. She also lets no man dissuade her otherwise, neither her father or the timorous Willie Mossop (John Mills), the shop’s brilliant boot-maker and partner in her plan, whether he knows it or not. “My brains and your talent will make a working partnership,” she promises, and proceeds to build his confidence, draw out his potential, and inspire his ambition. Along the way, she finds his way into his affections and reveals her own, and in the final act, offers Henry Hobson the “Hobson choice” that gives the film its title.
Lean creates a vivid sense of place and atmosphere and fills it with a colorful cast of Dickensian folk. This is no picaresque cobblestone and quaint storefront recreation of an idealized past, but a ruddy industrial town where a walk in the park ends by a river scummy with pollution and lined with acres of industrial plants sprouting smokestacks into the sky. Many of the exteriors were shot on location in Salford, including the couple’s first attempted kiss, a sweetly romantic moment played against a squalid slum, and the canal scene (which Lean and company proceeded to pollute with rubbish and detergent powder when they discovered the town had cleaned it up for the shooting). Jack Hildyard’s rich photography manages to make even this squalor look stunning.
Read entire piece here.
Also new is None But the Brave (1965), the only film to be directed by Frank Sinatra:
Shot on location on the island of Kauai, None But the Brave was a co-production with Toho Studios and the first American-Japanese co-production shot in the United States. Apart from the English language narration, the Japanese actors speak in their native language, often in extended subtitled sequences. While no longer novel in 1965, it was still unusual for a big Hollywood production to play so much of the drama in a foreign tongue but it’s an effective technique. Sinatra mirrors the two platoons, from the thoughtful and experienced commanding officers to their impulsive seconds to the cross-section of enlisted men, young and old. The language barrier divides the two platoons, and then proves only minor impediment to working together as the opposing soldiers find ways to communicate beyond language. It’s an obvious point in a familiar lesson in the futility of war, but Sinatra has an easy way with the actors and lets them carry the scenes. He isn’t as effective in his imagery or dramatic tension. Though much of the film was shot on location, Sinatra frames it more like a stage production than an outdoor adventure. The set-ups are flat and the staging banal and the resulting scenes often feel constrained and claustrophobic. Even the monsoon, though at times impressive, has a decidedly small scale feel to it.
Read the entire piece here.