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.
Holy crap, what an odd movie. Three travelers caught in a storm arrive at a spooky house, where they’re met by a mumbly deformed butler (Boris Karloff). The masters of the house, two hateful siblings – jittery doomsayer Ernest Thesiger (the mad doctor in Bride of Frankenstein who creates tiny people) and half-deaf grump Eva Moore – say they can stay the night (“but no beds!”), and also welcome another couple that arrives soon after, but act strange and nervous. As the night goes on, Karloff gets drunk and releases the third sibling, pyromaniac madman Saul, who threatens to destroy them all.
At your service: Melvyn, Gloria, Raymond
Meanwhile someone from the first carload falls in love with someone from the second. Some of the dialogue is hilarious, but the movie never comes out and announces its intention to be a comedy or parody. Well, maybe it does when one of the men sneaks upstairs and discovers the siblings’ 100-year-old grandfather in bed, clearly played by a woman with fake whiskers.
Travelers: Gloria Stuart of Titanic, who didn’t look anything like Kate Winslet when she was young, is married to Raymond Massey, who’d later play Karloff in Arsenic and Old Lace. They arrive with their sardonic layabout friend Melvyn Douglas (also a sarcastic romantic in I Met Him in Paris), who falls for Lilian Bond (Double Harness) who arrived with Charles Laughton (same year as Island of Lost Souls), a loud, brash rich fellow. It’s alright with Laughton that Melvyn runs off with his girl – Laughton wasn’t all that attached to her.
Boris vs. Gloria:
Lilian Bond looks more like Kate Winslet than Gloria does:
Very nice looking, shadowy picture, with kinda rough editing. Remade by William Castle in the 60’s. Gloria Stuart provides an audio commentary with good insight and recall. I didn’t listen to the whole thing, but James Cameron did.
“You’re an amazingly unscientific young man.”
“Are we not men?” Fun to imagine young Devo watching this in the 70’s and inverting the mad scientist’s intentions for their de-evolution theories. There’s even Devo-specific content on the Criterion disc, which I need to rent sometime.
Based on the HG Wells novel Island of Dr. Moreau which was remade a few times, with Burt Lancaster then Marlon Brando as Moreau. Here it’s Charles Laughton (same year as The Old Dark House), reveling in his role of the kindly accomodating villain, the calm and rational “mad” scientist with a whip. Laughton may have just invented camp in cinema, beating Bride of Frankenstein by a couple years. All the fun in the movie comes from Laughton along with the creatures whom he has forced to rapidly evolve in his surgical “house of pain”: slinky, sexy Lota the Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke, who next appeared in Murders in the Zoo) and fur-faced servants including M’ling (Tetsu Komai) and the Sayer Of The Law (Bela Lugosi, the year after Dracula).
No fun at all comes from our obligatory decent romantic couple: Richard Arlen (also the obligatory romantic lead in Thunderbolt) and Leila Hyams (also the obligatory romantic lead in Freaks). He was hitching a ride on a trading ship when he argued with the captain and got dumped at Moreau’s, and after he’d failed to show up, his fiancee Hyams teams up with some other captain named Donahue and goes searching. Donahue doesn’t make it out, nor does “doctor” Montgomery, a morally grey character who works with Moreau. And Moreau has compared himself to God – never a good idea in a movie, so we know he’s doomed as well.
The movie’s pretty good overall, with cool creatures and a perfect dose of Laughton, but it also serves up a smarter ending than expected. Laughton has built his dominance over the semi-evolved creatures through intimidation (the whip, House of Pain) and The Law, which forbids killing. But when he orders one monster to kill the captain, the others have enough of a grasp of logic to realize that “law no more,” and go on a Moreau-and-island-destroying rampage.
Kenton also made some Lon Chaney Jr. horrors in the 1940’s. Adapted from the Wells story by Philip Wylie (who’d also work on Wells’ The Invisible Man) and Waldemar Young (Love Me Tonight, Desire) and shot by Karl Struss (Sunrise).
A classy (but under-90-minute) bio-pic, which gratefully provides a smiling Charles Laughton plenty of time for speechifying. The story goes that Rembrandt started painting a commissioned portrait of some rich officers, but the painting turned dark after his wife Saskia died of illness, hence “The Night Watch.” Much criticism follows, Rem falls in with housekeeper Geertje and goes through dark times, loses all his possessions, then ten years later dumps her for newer, younger housekeeper Hendrickje. Together they creatively avoid Rem’s debts by saying he has no personal wealth and works for a dealership run by Hendrickje and Rem’s son Titus, thus all paintings belong to the dealer and can be sold. Hen eventually dies just like Rem’s first wife, and Rem lives out his days in poverty, begging on the street for money to buy paints but, being Charles Laughton, still looks awfully pleased with himself.
Roger Livesey, recognizable by his distinctive voice, gets a prime role as a beggar whom Rem wants to paint as a faded old king. Laughton, the year after Ruggles of Red Gap, and three after winning the oscar for Korda’s The Private Life of Henry VIII plays opposite stage actress Gertrude Lawrence (Geertje) and Elsa Lanchester (Hendrickje), who was the Bride of Frankenstein just the previous year.
Wikipedia, the source of all truths, says Night Watch was never criticized, that Rembrandt was paid in full and the subjects were pleased, but confirms the story of the art dealership owned by Rembrandt’s son and girlfriend.
It’s a mid-career work by Korda, who was turning to production over direction – this was one of the last he’d direct himself – with help from writer Carl Zuckmayer (The Blue Angel), cinematographer Georges Périnal (some René Clair films, Blood of a Poet, Colonel Blimp) and art director Vincent Korda (who’d work with Ernst Lubitsch, Carol Reed and David Lean).
Great comedy, funny, I loved the hell out of it. Katy liked too.
Ruggles (large-faced auteur Charles Laughton) is a butler for the Earl of Burnstead (Roland Young: Topper in Topper and Uriah Heep in David Copperfield). The Burnstead family and the Ruggles family have been in the same Earl/butler relationship for centuries. Along comes the American New Rich to shake things up: wild-west Egbert (Charlie Ruggles, still recognizable by his eyes over the thick mustache) and his haughty wife Effie, who win Ruggles in a card game and move him from Paris to Red Gap, Washington, USA. Egbert treats Ruggles as a buddy rather than a servant and keeps calling him “colonel”, so when they arrive in Red Gap, Ruggles is mistaken for an important guest in Egbert and Effie’s house, and Effie has to keep up the charade to avoid embarrassment. Ultimately there’s no escaping embarrassment for stuck-up Effie, and Ruggles takes advantage of the goodwill he’s acquired in town and the sense of freedom imbued by the American West to open his own (assumed successful) restaurant, cuddle (implied) with his sweetie (also implied) boot his rival out the building, and get publicly applauded at the end.
Ruggles is a great character. He’s not exactly the typical stuffy butler who gradually learns to relax – he seems from the start to have an inner life, and he adjusts relatively easily from selfless servant to personable entrepreneur. Overall much funnier class commentary than in The Rules of the Game, yet you don’t hear Cahiers du cinema all calling this the best film ever made. Based on a play and filmed a few other times, including a silent with E. Everett Horton as Ruggles, and in technicolor with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball. McCarey directed this soon after a Marx bros. movie and before a Harold Lloyd movie. Appropriately, we watched it soon after a Marx bros. movie and before a Harold Lloyd movie (neither one by McCarey, sorry bud).
character Ruggles (left) with actor Ruggles (right):
Besides being a great director, Charles Laughton was in everything from Whale’s The Old Dark House to Kubrick’s Spartacus. Silent star turned successful comedy/drama character actress Zasu Pitts is Ruggles’ dark-haired love interest, and Leila Hyams (also a silent star, best known for playing the nice girl in Freaks) is a blonde singer, a hot young society gal. I wanna say that Lucien Littlefield (Scandal Sheet, The Bitter Tea of General Yen) played the asshole who tried to keep Ruggles down.