Charles Laughton is Hobson, self-important shoe salesman, who talks of getting his youngest daughters married, but not the severe elder daughter since she’s far too old. So she elopes with the underpaid cobbler from dad’s basement and opens their own shop, while dad falls further into drunken ruin, until the final reconciliation.
It’s a fine story, but also an excuse for Laughton to pull out every doughy facial expression in the book and Lean to have a bit of fun. My favorite scene combines the two, as a near-fatally drunk Hobson stupidly chases the moon’s reflection across street puddles and window glass.
The DVD extras told me that the movie was named after an expression – a “Hobson’s choice” is when you’re superficially given a choice that has already been decided for you, like when Laughton is offered the chance to become partners with his wayward daughter and traitor ex-employee, but his business and personal affairs have fallen so far without them, he has to accept. One of Laughton’s last films, the year before directing Night of the Hunter. Especially good was John Mills (Pip in Lean’s Great Expectations) as the shoemaker/unwitting husband. His wife/business manager is Brenda de Banzie of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much remake, and not-Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps remake.