Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (Blu-ray)
(Twilight Time, 4.8.2014)
Beginning in the late ’60s, it became increasingly common for Hollywood to offer unsavory protagonists with obvious flaws. In many cases, these characters drew viewers in with their complexity, but a few years earlier, Hollywood was having mixed results with protagonists of this kind. It might be an exaggeration to call James Stewart’s Roger Hobbs an anti-hero, but he’s certainly a grumpy old man. While Stewart was roughly the same age as today’s George Clooney (53) when Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation was made, the character seems significantly older. Lacking the charm and humor he showed in his most memorable roles, Stewart seems to be seeking laughs for crankiness alone. If you stripped away all of Jack Nicholson’s vulnerability and other appealing traits in As Good as It Gets (another Twilight Time release) and made him an ill-suited family man, you might wind up with something like Mr. Hobbs.
There’s a lot to like about Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation -- the widescreen compositions, detailed sets, colorful supporting characters, and glimpses of early ’60s youth culture -- but this is diminished somewhat by the filmmakers’ failure to get inside the title character’s head. On the face of it, the logic of the film is relatively sound: a man in desperate need of a relaxing vacation finds himself in a run down beach house with uncooperative family members and many other stresses, causing him intense frustration. In light of these complications, Hobbs’ awful attitude makes sense, but we rarely see any other side of the character. Rather than see hopes dashed by disappointment, we simply see a cranky character get crankier.
Some have praised the film for a worldview that is uncharacteristically grim for 1962. Hobbs seems to be on shaky terms with just about everyone in his family, with the exception of his doting wife Peggy (Maureen O’Hara). A case could be made that the film has successfully shaken some sentimental notions from the past, but its perspective lacks insight, preferring easy (and not especially amusing) punch lines to truth. Crowd-pleasing comic pandering rarely ages well, but those with a high tolerance for Hollywood comedies of the late ’50s and early ’60s may be able to see through the weaknesses and enjoy this handsomely produced film from director Henry Koster.
As always with Twilight Time, this Blu-ray is limited to 3,000 copies, available exclusively through Screen Archives and the TCM store. Some may find that the visuals on this disc occasionally murky, but this seems to have more to do with the film’s original look than anything else. Overall, this is a strong transfer and about as much as anyone can expect from a 52-year-old film. The only extras on this disc are the theatrical trailer, a one-minute Movietone Movie Lot short (about the Minnesota Gophers football team’s visit to the Mr. Hobbs set), an isolated score track, and liner notes by Julie Kirgo, who offers more details on Stewart’s multi-film collaboration with Koster (Harvey, Take Her, She’s Mine, Dear Brigitte). -- Jonathan Doyle