BR: Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962)

June 14, 2014 | By

 

MrHobbsTakesAVacation_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  April 8, 2014

Genre:  Comedy

Synopsis: Mr. Hobbs experiences plenty of absurdities when his plans for a summer getaway with his lovely wife are flattened by a large-scale family reunion.

Special Features:  Isolated Stereo Score Track / 1961 Fox Movietone Newsreel / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.

 


 

Review:

Author Edward Streeter may not have realized t when he wrote the novel Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation in 1954, but he actually created the template for the classic 80s family vacation comedy in which a befuddled father and marginally frustrated wife have to deal with the antics of their kids on foreign terrain, which in this case is a decrepit beach house radiating the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe and Murphy’s Law in every corner. Just as things start to settle down, there’s a misadventure that bonds alienated father + son, plus the arrival of unwanted strangers.

James Stewart and Maureen O’Hara play the devoted, wise-cracking parents in need of fleeing their idyllic suburban homestead, but while Mr. Hobbs just wants to spend private time snuggling with the Missus, she’d rather use the occasion to re-bond with their extended family, since the eldest girls have left the nest, gotten married, and in one case spawned their own ‘little creep’ – a little snot who calls Hobbs “Boompah.”

This may be the last time the Hobbs clan assemble, given life’s twists and turns tend to expand the distances between family members, and even dad admits he’s only seen one of his two son-in-laws three times. Amid these small observations on the realities of family dynamics (especially the awareness that ephemeral small moments should be cherished), there’s plenty of silliness involving a malfunctioning water pump, a backwashing sink, and little Marika, a zaftig beach bunny (Hungarian cream puff Valerie Varda) who attempts to woo the attention of Hobbs’ least-known son-in-law Byron (played by John Saxon, in ridiculously fit form).

Hobbs’ other son-in-law Stan (Josh Peine) is feeling low after losing his job, and when he takes off on his wife after a spat, daughter Susan (big-haired Natalie Trundy) is left to process her own chaos with gentle support from her parents.

Nunnally Johnson’s script is well organized, minimizing the confusion with a fairly large cast and many family members, and Mr. Hobbs is essentially the marker whom audiences follow as minor characters approach and sometimes bump into him. A late arriving John McGiver and Marie Wilson play faux teetotalers, and like Marika, there are a few moments where implied nudity and cleavaged bosoms get some screen time. (Director Billy Wilder managed to similarly work in his own European sensibilities in The Seven-Year Itch in 1956, where the focus is on the father trying to experience a stay-cation with a hot blonde upstairs – played by Marilyn Monroe – while the screeching family is on vacation.)

Hobbs’ TV-addicted young son Danny (Michael Burns) eventually learns dad isn’t a full dope, and youngest daughter Katey (perky Lauri Peters) manages to transcend the metallic train tracks of her substantive braces and find love with local boy Joe (Fabian).

The trick to the film’s success includes its letter-perfect casting (including vapid Fabian), and the lightness tone which provides some contrast against content that would’ve been more problematic with censors when Wilder made Itch: Hobbs often utters ‘hell’ and ‘damn’; at one point he’s clearly bent on strangling the nerdy kid who stopped dancing with Katey because of her height; and he snuggles and sleeps in the same bed with the wife.

And although dad warms up a little to his son-in-laws, the two young men pretty much remain jerks to the end: Stan gets a job in the ‘all’s well that ends well’ finale but he’s never chastised for running off on his family, and it’s kind of obvious Byron spends more than minor quality time with beach bunny Marika.

That odd frankness, the film’s wry humour, and now-familiar genre tropes make Hobbs feel highly contemporary. There’s also Danny’s addiction to modern entertainment – eschewing any interaction with the outside world, he not only brings along his portable TV set, but wires together a makeshift antenna to remain attached to civilization – which is no different than being addicted to social media and the internet via less weighty portable devices.

The Hobbs’ aren’t an ordinary nuclear family, though: Mr. Hobbs is a top-earning executive who can afford a Finnish maid (Minerva Urecal) and take the family on a lengthy summer vacation (as evidenced by Joe sprouting a fuzzy beard during the course of the film). They live in a classic white paneled suburban house, and mom need not work.

As the archived trailer demonstrates, Fox wanted the film to appeal to every age demographic, hence the casting of Fabian and a preposterous soda counter song & dance routine with actress Peters designed to sell a single. (Fabian doesn’t even play a crooning teenager, so their sudden burst into melodic pap makes no sense.)

Fox’ prior DVD included a faux stereo and original mono mix, plus Spanish and French mono tracks. Sporting a beautiful HD transfer, Twilight Time’s release retains the original mono mix and adds an isolated stereo track showcasing Henry Mancini’s sleek and lighthearted score. There’s also a super-short Fox Movietone newsreel in which a group of football stars visit the Hobbs set, and Julie Kirgo’s liner notes.

Koster’s career (much of it with Fox) included historical dramas (The Robe, My Cousin Rachel, Desirée, D-Day the Sixth of June), musicals (Stars and Stripes Forever, Flower Drum Song), and he also directed Stewart in several classic films: Harvey (1950), No Highway in the Sky (1951), Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1961), Take Her, She’s Mine (1963), and Dear Brigitte (1965).

Studio Fox did their best to exploit teen heartthrob Fabian in several genres during the early sixties (High Time, North to Alaska, The Longest Day, Dear Brigitte) before he slid into infrequent film and TV roles, whereas Peters co-starred with Cliff Richard in the classic Summer Holiday (1963) before returning to theatre, followed by very few film & TV appearances.

Valerie Varda was out of film & TV acting after 1964, and Natalie Trundy returned to TV before a brief film resurgence in the Planet of the Apes sequels that were produced by husband Arthur P. Jacobs. Buried among the bit parts and background players in Hobbs is trumpet player Herb Alpert (Casino Royale) and the nerdy kid who dumped Katey at the dance was Daryl Duke, future director of the superb CanCon thriller The Silent Partner (1978) and the classic melodrama TV series The Thorn Birds (1983).

Filmed adaptations of Edward Streeter’s work includes the classic marriage comedy Father of the Bride (1950), its sequel Father’s Little Dividend (1951), the short-lived TV series (1961-1962), and the 1991 and 1995 remake & sequel, respectively; the Alcoa Hour live TV version of “Merry Christmas, Mr. Baxter,” and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962).

Producer Jerry Wald was responsible for many of Fox’ finest films; he was probably its best producer, responsible for some of the most sumptuous CinemaScope productions covering steamy, sleazy dramas (Peyton Place, The Long Hot Summer) and glossy biopics (Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man). His last film, The Stripper (1963), was released a year after his death at the age of 50.

 

 

© 2014 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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