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Hobson’s Choice

John W. Pinkerton


The other night while wandering the vast wasteland of television, clicking from channel to channel, I finally saw something that caught my attention.  It was an old black and white movie, Hobson's Choice (1954).

Charles Laughton, who played Henry Horatio Hobson, owner of a shoemaker store, was what first held my attention.  Laughton was a wonderful English leading and character actor whom I always admired.  He passed away in 1962; I guess this is the reason I haven't seen him in anything lately.  I recall he was married to the wonderful character actress Elsa Lanchester who also died in '62.

Laughton appeared in numerous plays, television productions and many, many movies.

Laughton in 1933 won the Best Actor in a Leading Role for his part in The Private Life of Henry VIII, in 1935 was nominated for his role in Mutiny on the Bounty, the version with Clark Gable, again in 1958 for Witness for the Prosecution.  You youngsters might recognize him from Spartacus, you know, Kirk Douglas.   No?  Well, that's a shame.
Anyway, back to the movie.  The second actor who caught my attention was a young fellow who played a simple shoemaker, Will Mossop, employed by Laughton’s character, Hobson. The character was unable to read or write, but had a master’s touch as a shoemaker and seemed to have a pure heart.  I kept thinking what a marvelous job the young actor was doing in portraying the shoemaker.  Finally I recognized him: John Mills.  For those of you who don’t know, John Mills was an English actor who appeared in over 120 films and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Ryan’s Daughter in 1970.   He lived to the age of ninety-seven passing away in 2005.  You youngsters may recall him from his roles in Around the World in
Eighty Days (1956)  Swiss Family Robinson (1959), Ghandi (1962), The Big Sleep (1977), Hamlet (1996) or Cats (1998).  Anyway, I was impressed by the young Mr. Mills in his role of shoemaker.

The third character to catch my attention was Maggie Hobson, eldest daughter of Henry Hobson, played by Brenda De Banzie.  I must admit I know next to nothing about the actress, but she was wonderful as the determined, self-assured Maggie.  

I believe I was watching the movie on Turner Broadcasting.  Ted Turner received a lot of criticism for his colorization of old films for use on television.  In this case he didn’t colorize the movie because it was produced in the color era, but I suspect some work was done on it because of the pristine quality of the images.  Hats off, Ted.

Now, I’m not much for watching old movies, particularly if I’ve seen them before, but I hadn’t seen this one before, and it had good actors and actresses and was directed by a more than adequate director, David Lean. You know his work: Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Dr. Zhivago.

I guess the movie would be classified as a romantic comedy, and it was both humorous and heart touching.  I found myself laughing out loud and empathizing with the characters, a rare event these days.

Hobson’s choice is an old expression which dates to the middle of the Seventeenth Century.  Basically it means not really having a choice.  An example would be someone asking you if you want soup and salad or salad and soup.  After father Hobson refused wages to his eldest daughter for running the shoemaker’s shop, Maggie gave the young Will Mossop no choice other than “marry me” or “wed me.”

I assure you, all works out well in the end thanks to the steely determination of Maggie.

Well, what’s my point you may be asking?  My point, my good reader, is that not everything new is better.  Storytelling is an ancient art not practiced widely or well today.  The sitcoms and  movies too often today neglect the basics of telling a story.  You youngsters must do better.  You’re boring us to tears.