Summertime is coming and maybe you’re planning a fantastic trip to the beach to spend time with your loved ones. Or, if you’re like me, you dread any type of event where you’re stuck in close quarters with the people you already spend 365 days a year with. If this is you than Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation is the movie to pop into your Blu-ray player before hitting the road. Jimmy Stewart plays an exhausted father looking for some togetherness with his disparate clan only to wander down a road littered with disaster at every corner. With enough humor to spare, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation combines old Hollywood ideals lost at sea in the 1960s.
Roger Hobbs (Stewart) refuses to spend time with his family, especially after their last trip. With the aid of flashback, he shows us the last time Hobbs and his family took a presumably quiet trip to the Northern California coast. However, the family ends up staying in a house whose problems are commensurate with their own.
Twilight Time essayist Julie Kirgo is a mind-reader because several character comparisons and elements in my notes cropped up in her analytic essay included with the disc. (I read the essay after watching the movie in case you’re wondering.) I fault Jimmy Stewart for always playing the hero, the optimist, the guy you just can’t help but empathize with. He’s too perfect for me, which is the reason I’ve avoided his work in the past. The Jimmy Stewart of Mr. Hobbs is a harder, rational character whose issues I identified with constantly. His opening narration bemoans a world that’s “too damn crowded” (the emphasis on “damn’s” and “hell’s” appears to flaunt the relaxed Production Code rules of the ’60s). Roger Hobbs (and Stewart as a result) is too damn tired to stand as the bastion of righteousness any longer. All he wants is a little peace and quiet, and maybe time to spend with his family despite claiming they don’t need him anymore. George Bailey would get a smack in the kisser if he stood in front of Roger Hobbs screaming about Zuzu’s petals. The closest comparison to Roger Hobbs is Stanley Banks, Spencer Tracy’s character in Father of the Bride. It makes sense considering Nunnally Johnson adapted Edward Streeter’s novel of the same name; Streeter was the author of Father of the Bride.
Same as Father of the Bride, Hobbs leads us via flashback to the vacation that ripped out his soul to the point of contemplating suicide at the beginning-proven as a joke by the end. The opening introduction to Hobbs and his family presents the deterioration of the nuclear family: Roger and his wife, Peggy (Maureen O’Hara) barely talk; his daughter, Katey (Lauri Peters) is crippled with self-consciousness due to her new braces; Hobbs’ two eldest daughters live far away with individual domestic troubles; and little Danny Hobbs (Michael Burns) talks to Roger when it’s time to purchase the month’s Playboy. Jimmy Stewart talking about Playboy is easily one of the more disturbing things I’ve heard a classic movie actor talk about. This is a nuclear family diverging from the norm, both geographically and fundamentally, with Hobbs forced to conform or die.
After setting up the family, they’re assembled for their trip to the coast and a funeral dirge appropriately plays as they pull up to a house seemingly materialized from thin air and plopped in the middle of the beach. It looks like the Bates House with the interior from 13 Ghosts (anyone know if the Castle feature was filmed on the same set?). Hobbs says it’s “good for Edgar Allan Poe” but you’ll half-expect Lurch to open the door with a “You rang?” The film falls into the typical pratfalls of a house from hell picture, especially the mischievous water pump Stewart fights with, but for the most part this is a movie concerned with people’s failures. Johnson’s flippant script pulls the film away from a typical Hollywood family gathering. What other movie combines a joke about two people trapped in a bathroom with a one-liner about Lolita’s Humbert Humbert? And let’s not forget Roger Hobbs screaming “Where’s that albino” during a teen dance.
There are also witty accusations against child psychology since one of Hobbs’ eldest daughters is married to a man interested in the subject. The movie makes light of the various ways people “discipline” their child by ignoring their disobedience, but you side with Hobbs in his attempts to save his possessions from his daughter’s rugrats. (They eventually grow to love their “Boompa”, and, despite never showing anything to the contrary, it’s presumed they’ve changed from being around him.) Several moments in the movie present laughter at select tragedies in a sea of terribles. When one of Hobbs’ daughters decides to separate from her husband the movie doesn’t detour into melodrama. Instead, the two adults part with the husband telling his kids “Bye, kids. Don’t forget Daddy.” On the page it sounds upsetting, but presented within the movie it’s hilarious.
For all the humor there’s a desire to retain the family focus of Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation. Much of this is placed on the shoulders of Lauri Peters’ Katey who originated the role of Liesel Von Trapp in The Sound of Music on Broadway. Her Katey acts like a Gidget clone/reject despite Peters’ hilarious facial expressions as she remains lock-lipped because of her braces. Her plot develops over an hour into the movie once she meets Joe (teen idol Fabian) and the two instantly fall in love. Or it’s instant because of the lack of scenes developing it. Fabian was 19 but looks fifteen years older standing next to Peters, who appears significantly younger than her 19 years. There’s nothing before or after indicating this is a musical, but the studio heads must have agreed Fabian couldn’t appear without a song, so cue three minutes of obnoxious, 1960s beach music. The song is as startling as Katey’s character transformation. One minute the girl won’t smile, the next she’s confident enough to sing a song in front of others? And poor O’Hara, despite being “36-26-36 and still operating,” is relegated to speaking in moral platitudes as the voice of reason. The movie overstays its welcome by a good 30 minutes, with the appearance of another couple, leaving you to wonder if the script is inventing things to do in order to pad the runtime.
I’ve heaped near-constant praise on Twilight Time’s Blu-rays already, but I’ve never talked about the service they provide smaller features that wouldn’t warrant a Blu-ray release from a larger studio. Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation isn’t a seminal film from 1962, and it’s doubtful 20th Century Fox would have given the movie half the respect Twilight Time’s given to its Blu-ray release. The picture and sound are spectacular, and the bonus features are the typical “one and done” of standard Twilight Time and Fox releases. There’s the requisite isolated score as well as the Fox stand-by’s of a Movietone newsreel and the theatrical trailer.
A running gag is Hobbs’ attempted reading of War and Peace, a novel whose title describes the two elements at play within Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation. Mr. Hobbs is at war with his family and himself, but eventually the peace he’s wanted all along, and he bonds with his family at the same time. Twilight Time takes an obscure title-I hadn’t heard of it before learning Twilight Time was putting it out-and releases it to the masses in a loving new transfer. If you’re stuck with the family, give Mr. Hobbs your attention before you go. You might learn to love your family in the process!
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.