Directed by Henry Koster
Yesterday I wrote up my assessment of Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) but it wasn’t till today as I was going over it that I realized what, for me, was the most significant aspect of the movie.
It is accurate. At least on the surface level, it is spot on. The Hobbs family vacation was our family’s vacation, at least as far as the look and the social aspects are concerned.
The movie is a bit of fluff, yes, but I really do think what attracts me to it is what I imagine to be a nostalgia factor. The way the family travels in their station wagon was the way we travelled (though we didn’t have a station wagon but a burgundy 1964 Mercury Meteor with the inwardly slanted back window that opened).
The way the children behave, their interests and activities … that was my sister (dances, teen social interaction and anxiety), and me (radio and TV fascination).
And Mr. Hobbs … that outfit he wears to the beach? That was my Dad. He wore a similar hat and similar bathing suit and jacket, a weirdly half towel thing as it was partly made of terrycloth, like the pocket cuffs and collar trim.
It’s hard to imagine now that such a world actually existed, that people did such things and dressed in such ways, but they did. If I were I to rummage through old family photos I could likely find many that showed us looking just like the Hobbs family and particularly my father, right down to the bathing suit and hat. (Dad also had the same, skinny body type as James Stewart.)
As for the movie itself and my assessment, it goes like this:
As much as this 1962 family comedy, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, is a weak contender in the list of Jimmy Stewart movies, particularly when set against a Vertigo or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Harvey, it is surprisingly enjoyable. Despite suffering from the flaws of that genre “60s family comedy,” meaning the clichés and so on, it has its moments and there are times you can’t help but laugh.
A lot of this is from the performances of both Jimmy Stewart (who I suspect found this an easy character to play) and Maureen O’Hara. The roles weren’t stretches by any means, but the performances were good.
Mr. Hobbs plans a vacation. However, while he imagines something with just he and his wife, maybe something romantic, she is determined to take the opportunity to bring the family together and have everyone bond as a family, including wedded children, their spouses and children. It’s a veritable tribe spending a month together.
Reluctantly, Mr. Hobbs accedes and the antics begin. The house they’ve rented is falling apart. The grandchildren are acting up. The Hobbs’ married children are having marital problems and the children who are still at home are dealing with their teen years.
Honestly, to me, this doesn’t sound promising. Yet it somehow works, though not always. The director, Henry Koster (who also directed Stewart in 1950’s Harvey), manages to get some good visual humour into the film, to a large part through Stewart’s performance. He also gets some winning performances from people like John McGiver, who is hilarious as the pompous Mr. Martin Turner.
The movie also manages some good running jokes through the movie like the women talking on the party line (always about operations), the “barn swallow” joke in the bird watching scene, the shapely beach neighbour (Valerie Varda) and Mr. Hobbs discomfort around her, Mr. Hobbs always carrying luggage, as other jokes.
On the other hand, there is an opening and closing to the film, a conceit, that is completely unnecessary and, frankly, a bit stupid. It carries on a bit through some voiceovers that are also largely unnecessary. And there is a bit of a 1960s beach party thing with Fabian and an arbitrary song inclusion.
Yes, it’s a bit of a mixed bag of good and bad. Overall, however, it ends up being a nice, pleasant movie that moves along at a good clip. It’s not the kind of movie that changes cinema but then it doesn’t intend to be. It just wants to entertain in a comfortable way and that’s just what it does.
For what it is worth, that vehicle the Hobbs family travels in is a 1960 Dodge Polara station wagon … not that I, a person who doesn’t drive, would know.