5 November 2002 | zetes
Just a great film!
Charles Laughton plays an alcoholic widower (and happy about it) with three adult daughters. The oldest of them, Maggie (Brenda de Banzie), is 30, and the other two are (I would guess) in their early 20s. He wants to marry off the younger two, but the eldest he finds useful to his bootmaking business. "You're too old," he tells her when she asks about her turn to be married. Well, Laughton has raised his daughter to be too shrewd for his own good! When faced with her father's challenge, she lands a fiancé within an hour. He is Willie Mossop (John Mills), one of Laughton's own craftsmen (and thus of a lower class). Earlier the same day, a rich woman had walked into the bootshop for the sole purpose of praising Willie's master craftsmanship. Maggie is a clever businesswoman, and she figures that she can help a man with Willie's skill succeed. Laughton, of course, disapproves, but Maggie is too strong willed. And, again, clever. She quickly and flawlessly develops plans to come out above her father.
I haven't exactly said what the mood of this film is yet. It could be a drama, but it is a comedy of manners and class. It glides along with such an amazingly graceful wit, and it's oh so gentle. The budding relationship between Willie and Maggie is simply amazing to watch. The engagement and marriage begins as just a business engagement. I was actually worried that Maggie, so efficient, would destroy her husband's will. But she softens as she realizes what a lovable man she has shanghaied. The film contains one of the most remarkably funny sex scenes I can recall; well, pre-sex scene, of course. The couple's marriage day is winding to an end, and we see that Willie isn't quite sure what's to happen between them as he slowly gets ready for bed. We see how it all worked out the next morning when he won't even let his wife set a teacup and saucer down before he rushes at her with the first kiss of the morning.
It's also a lot of fun to see an old blowhard like Laughton's Hobson get his bubble burst. Laughton is easily one of the best actors in history. We have nothing half as good today. He's not especially likeable here, but he is awfully amusing. Near the film's open, the only way he can get up the stairs to bed while drunk is to do it at a sprint with his arms held out to balance. Lean's direction is quite good, as well. I am not extremely familiar with his entire career; I only know his three biggest films. I'm glad to have finally got to a humbler Lean. This is at least as good as Lawrence. I have to mention one other greatly subtle scene: Hobson, p****d in both the British and American meanings of the word, spies the reflection of the full moon in a puddle of rainwater. He imagines it looking down on him with contempt, so he rushes to it and stomps it. When the water becomes still again, the moon is back. Oh wait, no! It's not the moon, but Hobson's fat face filling in exactly where the moon had been! 9/10.