I refer to this movie as one of my guilty pleasures, but in truth there should be no guilt associated with it. Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, director Henry Koster’s amusing 1962 look at family togetherness offers plenty of laughs via a fine script and talented cast. And I can’t get enough of it.
Mr. Hobbs, played by the great James Stewart, is of the belief that families should be together on occasion, but not stirred. Certainly not stirred in a boiling pot of an old house for an entire month’s vacation. In contrast Mrs. Hobbs, portrayed by the gorgeous Maureen O’Hara, is a sentimental sort who wants to take every opportunity to bring the family together.
As the movie opens we see Roger Hobbs stuck in traffic in the crowded and polluted city of St. Louis, Missouri. From there we see him get off a crowded, smokey elevator and step into his office where he works as a banker and immediately call for his secretary to take dictation. Mr. Hobbs proceeds to send a memo to his wife, Peggy. One she is to read after his death. The memo recounts the Hobbs’ family’s latest vacation, one Mr. Hobbs vows never to repeat. As the banking executive recounts the details we go back to relive the experience with him, an oft hilarious romp replete with teenage angst, marital strife, jealousies and a house divided and decrepit that ends in a familiar fashion. But let’s get to the story, which we are made privy to via a voiceover as Hobbs dictates his memo…
The Nickersons have a summer house by the sea that they’ve lent to the Hobbs family to enjoy for an entire month. Mr. Hobbs was hoping for a quiet time away with his wife, but Mrs. Hobbs had other plans, which included inviting their four children and their families. The Hobbs children are: Danny, the youngest and only boy who is obsessed with television – old Westerns and Tombstone Raiders in particular – and wants to do nothing but sit in front of the set. Next in line is youngest daughter, Katey, a self-conscious teen due to her new braces who thinks her parents are just weird. Then there’s Janie who’s married to a windbag professor named Byron. Byron takes every opportunity to lecture the Hobbs on all manner of familial psychological statistics. Finally, there’s Susie, the Hobbs’ eldest daughter who’s married to Stan and is the mother of two bratty children, the oldest of which calls Mr. Hobbs Boompa much to the chagrin of his grandfather.
So the Hobbs family arrive at the Nickerson house and immediately things start going awry on both the family level and in the house itself, which turns out to be a rickety mansion with lights so old they darken a room when turned on and an artesian-well pump accompanied by step-by-step instructions that cause Mr. Hobbs much consternation – and result in an amusing man-vs-machine scene.
In any case, the arrival of the Hobbs’ eldest daughters threaten to prove Mr. Hobbs right. Families can be too close for comfort and soon the vacation takes a turn for the worst. Janie’s husband, the windbag professor, spends his time flirting with the blonde bombshell neighbor and Susie’s husband Stan leaves the house soon after arriving because they have a huge fight. It’s thanks to Mr. Hobbs – the one who believes in staying out of his children’s lives – that everything comes together in the end.
Mr. Hobbs saves the day…
By way of an annoying telephone party line on which two snoopy ladies are constantly gossiping Mr. Hobbs learns of a dance at the nearby Yacht Club. Hoping to get Katey out of her shell, Roger and Peggy accompany her to the dance where Roger soon finds himself paying young men to dance with her. One of those happens to be none other than singing sensation, Fabian (Joe in the movie) who connects with Katey for the rest of the summer. (I pause here for all appropriate screaming to subside…) And the braces are no longer a cause of strife for the teenager.
Next, poor Danny’s television breaks down forcing him to step out into sunlight, which results in plans to go sailing with his old dad. But the default sailing trip ends in a father and son connection during which the elder also becomes a hero in the eyes of the boy. It’s quite a nice scene, actually.
Mr. Hobbs even saves Susie and Stan’s marriage in what turns out to be my favorite part of the movie. Now let me say that I have seen Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation countless times throughout my life. I know it like the back of my hand yet cannot help but laugh throughout its silly antics. This is particularly true during the many scenes shared between James Stewart and John McGiver who plays, Mr. Turner, Stan’s prospective employer who insists on getting to know people’s family and background before hiring them.
Anyway, so in trying to impress Turner for Susie’s sake Hobbs tells him he shares the man’s love of birdwatching. He even agrees to get up at 4:30 in the morning to go on an expedition. Of course Hobbs knows nothing about birds and calls each and every species they run into a barn swallow, the first species Turner names. I might add that for years I too have called most birds I see barn swallows. In any case, McGiver’s deadpan, snooty somewhat bitter delivery is perfectly matched against Stewart’s sweetness and great timing.
Also a hoot is Marie Wilson who plays Mrs. Turner. She gets some opportunity for laughs herself and delivers. The rest of the supporting cast of Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation includes the aforementioned Fabian (pause for appropriate screaming to subside…), Reginald Gardiner (always a treat) who plays Reggie McHugh, another banker friend of the Hobbs’ who they meet up with during the vacation. Lauri Peters makes her acting debut here as Katey, John Saxon plays windbag Byron, Valeria Varda plays bombshell, neighbor Marika and Michael Burns plays Danny Hobbs.
Finally, as mentioned above, co-starring opposite James Stewart in Mr. Hobbs, the first of two films they make together is Maureen O’Hara. Due to her this week’s viewing of Mr. Hobbs was extra special for me and I watched with a deeper affection given I just saw her 93-year-old-self up close at last week’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. During one of the interviews at the festival Ms. O’Hara was asked who her favorite leading man was and not surprisingly she named John Wayne with whom she made five films. But I admit I was hoping her answer was James Stewart and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation is the reason why. I grew up watching this movie and have a deep affection for it, as you can probably tell by this point. Both Stewart and O’Hara are enjoyable to watch in anything, but they are particularly lovely together in every scene they share here. Mr. Hobbs may not stack up to the Mr. Smiths as far as Stewart’s filmography goes, but his charming self and comedic timing makes for a great performance – albeit of the lighthearted variety. I fall a little more in love with him each time I watch this movie. I mean, the way he goes out to take sun under an umbrella, with long pants on plus a shirt and an undershirt and hat. I can barely stand it. And I buy him and Maureen completely as the couple and parents they play – he the humorous, exasperated dad and husband. She, the beautiful, warm and supportive wife and mother. Who, by the way, still have that spark going between them.
The film’s Writers Guild of America nomination for Best Written American Comedy of 1962 to Nunnally Johnson’s Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation screenplay is wonderful. Stewart’s Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Actor – Musical/Comedy is fantastic. But watching him and Maureen O’Hara doing the twist is priceless. Incidentally, the other film the two stars made together is Andrew V. McLaglen’s The Rare Breed four years after Mr. Hobbs.
Finally, I can’t leave without at least mentioning the period music in Mr. Hobbs written by Henry Mancini, which is perfect given the film’s producers were trying to appeal to audiences of all ages with this story. A special mention must go to “Cream Puff,” a song in the film co-written by Mancini and Johnny Mercer performed by Fabian (pause for appropriate screaming to subside…) and Lauri Peters.
I will leave you then – affectionately – with that song’s inspired lyrics…
Curl up and be my baby doll
Although quite late, I post this as part of the James Stewart Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Cafe. You can view the complete blogathon schedule here – a can’t miss event dedicated to one of our greatest actors.