“My brain and your hands will make a working partnership!”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
The storyline centers on Hobson’s delicious come-uppance — with the title itself ultimately referring to the fact that Hobson really has no choice in mending his ways. Interestingly, while he’s the clear antagonist of the story, we can’t help feeling a bit of compassion for him, given how inevitable his downfall is — and how clueless he is about its coming. Meanwhile, de Banzie’s Maggie makes for a most unlikely protagonist, but that’s precisely the point: from the very beginning, she’s posited (by Laughton) as someone too old and too plain to marry or make anything more of her life than what she has; she spends the rest of the storyline proving him wrong. It helps that de Banzie herself is a somewhat unknown cinematic face: her only other notable (supporting) film roles were as a female baddie in Hitchcock’s second version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and as Laurence Olivier’s wife in The Entertainer (1960). This makes her emergence as an unexpectedly strong force-to-be-reckoned-with all the more pleasantly surprising.
Peary nominates Laughton as one of the Best Actors of the Year for his work in this film, and it does remain one among many of his impeccable performances; no one was better at embodying grotesque disdain than Laughton. John Mills is equally delightful (if unexpectedly cast) in the pivotal role as Willie Mossop, a gifted yet intellectually challenged shoemaker who slowly comes into his own as a man of means. Every scene he’s in is delightful, but my favorite is probably the one showcasing the moments before and after his wedding night (with the night itself, naturally, cut out); with help from Lean, Mills masterfully conveys everything we need to know about this critical facet of his shifting relationship with de Banzie. Also worth pointing out is Malcolm Arnold’s instantly hummable score, which seems as much a part of the film experience as the visuals and storyline. This one is a true delight, and should be seen by all film fanatics at least once.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: