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Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation is by no means the squarest feature in the impressive Twilight Time library, as the late-career Bing Crosby vehicle High Time takes that honor, no contest. It's doubtful that anyone associated with this Summer release ever heard of Jacques Tati, but the main ad art of James Stewart loaded down with beach paraphernalia certainly reminds of Tati's Mr. Hulot's Holiday. There the resemblance ends.
What we do get in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation is an accurate representation of what once passed -- and was embraced -- as happy family fare. American Graffiti asked "Where were you in '62?" Sadly, not many of us were relative sophisticates having wild teenage summer adventures. The Beatles made us all feel cool, but they were still more than a year away. This writer was a pre-teen with little to do. I saw Mr. Hobbs at a weekday matinee, alone, and thought it was hilarious.
Talented screenwriter Nunnally Johnson still had a couple of terrific screen adaptations in his future, George Roy Hill's The World of Henry Orient and Robert Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen. This comparatively tame outing was filmed largely on soundstages, with exteriors at a couple of Southern California beaches. 1 Businessman Roger Hobbs (James Stewart) dreams of a romantic European vacation. But his wife Peggy (Maureen O'Hara) has a horrible fate in store for him -- she's invited both of her daughters and their young families to gather for a months at a borrowed a beach house. Roger gets not a moment's peace with all the racket, marital arguments and obnoxious personalities jammed together. He also ends up being a beast of burden carrying baggage and a repairman for the bizarre pump / water heater machine in the basement. It becomes Roger's duty to solve all his family's problems. His teenage daughter Katey (Lauri Peters) is self-conscious about her braces. His son Danny (Michael Burns of Altman's That Cold Day in the Park) only wants to watch TV. Hobbs' married daughters Susan and Janie (Natalie Trundy of The Careless Years & Lili Gentle) have man problems: Susan's college professor hubby Byron (John Saxon) is a pompous jerk, and Janie's husband Stan (Josh Peine) has lost his job. To help Stan, Roger volunteers to play host for the Turners, a prospective employer and his wife (John McGiver & Marie Wilson). For further grief, Peggy isn't amused when the flirtatious, curvaceous Marika (Valerie Varda) joins Roger on the beach, to read War and Peace together.
Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation is a CinemaScope sitcom built around James Stewart's personality. At 53 years of age, Stewart was finally slipping into 'older man' roles, which means that he'd no longer play bachelors necking with the likes of Kim Novak. Perhaps the actor was sobered by his attempt the same year to play a 20 year-old in a John Ford film that probably had to be shot in B&W to hide the wrinkles on its leading players. Stewart would do two more Fox quasi-sequels to Mr. Hobbs before springing back into top form in Robert Aldrich's The Flight of the Phoenix (there's a great target title for you, TT).
Meanwhile, Maureen O'Hara was making a career of being the All-American housewife, inheriting the role from the 1950s champion June Allyson. She appeared as essentially the same character opposite John Wayne (three times) and James Stewart (twice), with one-shots with Brian Keith and Henry Fonda thrown in for good measure. O'Hara's ideal wife and mother was definitely a throwback to an earlier era. Although writer Nunnally Johnson gives the sexy Marika one or two tame provocative lines, O'Hara's Peggy is a family-first and husband-second type of housewife. Today it seems fairly oppressive for Peggy Hobbs to call after Roger every time Marika approaches him on the beach. He's the innocent dupe and O'Hara's arched eyebrow is on the lookout for predatory blondes in abbreviated swimsuits. But it's humiliating for Roger to be summoned back to the house, like a mama's boy on a short leash.
Most of what happens in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation follows the pattern of what the National Lampoon magazine would later call "Presbyterian Hell". Roger is left by everyone to tote tons of luggage. His son can't be pried from the TV, which is playing the same B&W western seen in every anti-TV movie since The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. The family cook Brenda (Minerva Urecal) seemingly hates him. The plumbing behaves like Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park. He's plagued by permissive parenting, screaming kids and an obnoxious academic intellectual. Everybody in this family demands undue respect, but feels free to dump on Grandpa whenever they wish.
The broad silliness with the visiting Turners works mainly because of the amusing John McGiver and Marie Wilson. Roger puts up with a day's birdwatching but then finds himself locked in the bathroom with the nude, drunk Mrs. Turner. Omigosh, the steam from the shower is clearing up -- is this a wild and crazy development or what?
Perhaps the best scene sees Hobbs and his son Danny caught in a fog bank while sailing, forcing Roger to use old-fashioned horse sense to get safely back to shore. He seems genuinely happy to remember how to sail after a gap of 25 years. Danny realizes that his old man is someone to be respected, not a whining pencil pusher revoking his TV privileges.
The least palatable part of the film deals with the self-conscious daughter Katey. She has withdrawn because of her braces (as if teenaged girls were insecure about only one thing) and Roger and Peggy take it upon themselves to accompany her to a yacht club dance. It's a teenage horror story -- the parents anxiously hover over Katey, and Roger eventually pays boys to dance with her. It all turns out fine, as the Prince Charming of the beach set (Fabian) shows up to fulfill Katey's teenaged dreams. The whole idea of this subplot is disgusting: Katey can't even own her adolescent problems, as they really belong to Roger and Peggy, and their gotta-succeed self-image. I honestly hope Katey turns up pregnant or something, just to pop the Hobbs'es bubble of complacency.
Naturally everything turns out "for the best". Because Father does indeed Know Best, Roger will knuckle under and happily return to the beach house the next summer. The status quo will be maintained for at least one more year, after which Kennedy will be killed, Katey will join the Students for a Democratic Society and Danny will eventually go to Vietnam.
Director Henry Koster could probably do this job in his sleep -- he had directed Stewart in the pictures Harvey and No Highway in the Sky and would continue on autopilot for the two quasi-sequels, Take Her, She's Mine and Dear Brigitte. We're told that Herb Alpert BTB (before Tijuana Brass) plays trumpet at the yacht club dance. I can't be sure, but it really looks like the ragged beach house for Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation was simply loaded on a truck and hauled from storage on the shrinking Fox back lot -- it resembles the house in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. It also doesn't convince for a minute, sitting on the beach as if placed there with a fork lift.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray of Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation is a beauty in great shape, with no signs of fading or deterioration. Colors are bright and true, and even the rear projected scenes look rather good. The music by Henry Mancini has no catchy theme to insure radio play, and in fact the 'pizza shop romance' song Cream Puff by Mancini and Johnny Mercer is the definition of lameness.
Twilight Time's Isolated score track reveals some very nicely turned out Mancini cues elsewhere in the show. A brief newsreel snippet shows some college football players visiting Stewart, O'Hara and Fabian on the set. And the original trailer is on hand.
The informative liner notes allow essayist Julie Kirgo to put her own spin on Mr. Hobbs' special relevance to family politics of the time. The trailer repeats Stewart's opening narration where he whines about the Space Program being necessary because "it's getting too damn crowded down here." I think that speaks for my father's generation, who had fought WW2 and were feeling worn out at age forty. Instead of peace and ease they got more war worries, assassinations, a revolt by 'ungrateful' minorities, sneering put-downs from snotty intellectuals and sass from their spoiled kids. No wonder they retreated to safe white-bread communities away from the problems of the cities.
Then again, Roger Hobbs is 40-ish and can take a vacation that lasts AN ENTIRE MONTH without once talking about his work or the office. If you ask me, the guy's pretty spoiled too.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation Blu-ray rates:
1. Watch the early scene of Hobbs & family driving along the seashore toward their summer cottage: the background rear projection is on a sandy road. When it passes a hill to the right, the house just on the left facing the beach is the Atomic Doom house from Kiss Me Deadly. We only get a tiny glimpse before the kids in the back seat stand up and block the view.
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T'was Ever Thus.