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Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) movie poster Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation

Theatrical Release: June 15, 1962 / Running Time: 117 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Henry Koster / Writers: Edward Streeter (novel), Nunally Johnson (screenplay)

Cast: James Stewart (Roger Hobbs), Maureen O'Hara (Peggy Hobbs), Fabian (Joe Carmody), Lauri Peters (Katey Hobbs), Lili Gentle (Janie Grant), John Saxon (Byron Grant), John McGiver (Mr. Martin Turner), Marie Wilson (Mrs. Emily Turner), Reginald Gardiner (Reggie McHugh), Valerie Varda (Marika Carter), Natalie Trundy (Susan Carver), Josh Peine (Stan Carver), Michael Burns (Danny Hobbs), Minerva Urecal (Brenda), Richard Collier (Mr. Kagle) / Uncredited: Barbara Mansell (Ellen the Receptionist), Peter Oliphant (Peter Carver)

Buy Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation on Blu-ray exclusively at Screen Archives

It is tough to believe that shortly after making Vertigo and Anatomy of a Murder and the same year as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and How the West Was Won, Jimmy Stewart starred in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, a sitcom of a 1962 feature film you would expect from Walt Disney and Fred MacMurray.
Back then, Stewart was in his early 50s and still holding on to the movie star status he first earned a quarter-century earlier. Mr. Hobbs is adapted from a novel by Edward Streeter, whose Father of the Bride had been turned into a hit movie, a profitable sequel, and a CBS television series. This gentle family comedy in the same vein as that Spencer Tracy-Elizabeth Taylor franchise may seem beneath Stewart, who headlined some of the most enduring classics of his day for Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, and others. But it offers too good of a time to worry about that or mind.

The film opens with St. Louis banker Roger Hobbs (Stewart) dictating a letter to his secretary to be opened by his wife after his death. The letter is about a recent month-long vacation that Hobbs and his family took. Intended to just be a getaway for Roger and his wife Peggy (Maureen O'Hara), the seaside holiday wound up including three generations of family members and a number of memorable experiences. Hobbs' letter and exasperated attitude suggest the trip was a disaster of National Lampoon's Vacation proportions, but as we'll see that's something of an oversimplification.

Roger (Jimmy Stewart) and Peggy Hobbs (Maureen O'Hara) take a month-long seaside vacation with their children and grandchildren in the 1962 comedy "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation."

Roger, Peggy, their temperamental Finnish cook Brenda (Minerva Urecal), and two children, TV-obsessed Danny (Michael Burns) and self-conscious teenager Katey (Lauri Peters), are surprised by the state of the beach house they're renting. It's a spooky old mansion with weak old light bulbs and unreliable plumbing. The parents, who are hoping this trip reminds the kids of what family is, grin and bear it.

The film proceeds with a series of comic misadventures. They get kind of broad when Roger tries to make sense out of the pressure pump, one of several solitary scenes in which strangely disembodied narration is laid over, surely a decision made in post-production. Roger finds himself talking Tolstoy with Marika (Valerie Varda), a daft, buxom, blonde foreign sunbather. Roger and Peggy's two grown-up daughters, their husbands, and the young grandchildren soon make it out to the house including a disagreeable boy who can't stand his "Boompa" (Grandpa).

Eventually, Roger does get to spend some quality time with his kids. He pays boys (including teen idol Fabian) $5 to dance with the reserved Katey, who is too embarrassed by her braces to open her mouth. And he winds up being convinced to go for a ride on the Spatterbox, the yacht of a well-to-do blowhard, with Danny, where they endure a number of close calls (depicted unconvincingly with rear projection scenery) before getting lost at sea, a subplot with all the drama of an "ALF" episode.

Then, for no apparent reason, the world's most boring couple visits. The Turners (John McGiver and Marie Wilson) won't play golf or tennis, drink, or even sit out in the sun. Roger agrees to go spotting for birds with Mr. Turner early one morning.

Also, just because, at Pizza Heaven, the happenin' place for the younger generation, Katey and her new love interest sing "Cream Puff", a sugary original duet penned by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini, in between their back-to-back Oscar wins for "Moon River" from Breakfast at Tiffany's and the title song of Days of Wine and Roses.

Shy teenaged daughter Katey (Lauri Peters) shows her braces while singing the Mancini-Mercer duet "Cream Puff" with Joe (Fabian). Father (Jimmy Stewart) and son (Michael Burns) get lost at sea during a foggy boat ride.

Mr. Hobbs is not a great film, but it is an utterly enjoyable one. The highly episodic presentation feels quite like a situation comedy.
Some episodes are better than others, but the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. The folksy Stewart has no qualms playing the middle-aged man who finds himself out of touch with his family and the world. He wants lightning to strike the family's television set before it makes his son "go blind or nutty." He laments that he hardly knows his son-in-law, objects to his adult daughter coddling her son, and can't resist a bit of ogling and innuendo with the gold-digging Marika.

There's a little attempt to contextualize the plight of the modern family, as Hobbs' narration makes two references to the ongoing Space Race. The nods to technology strengthen the film's tonal similarities to Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress, then just a couple of years away from opening at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Another thing Mr. Hobbs reminded me of was the recurring "Animaniacs" sketch Katie Ka-Boom. I can find no evidence officially confirming a link between this movie and that overdramatic, explosive cartoon teenager, but she has the same name (spelled differently) and haircut as this film's teen daughter and, of course, her father is clearly intended to sound like Jimmy Stewart.

Mr. Hobbs feels like a two-hour, big screen, color, CinemaScope version of its small screen contemporaries "Father Knows Best" or "My Three Sons." That should make it clear that this does not number among the many classics of Stewart or of the underutilized O'Hara, who would retire from acting just a few years later and scarcely return in the nearly 50 years since. Still, it's a treat to discover this film that I, like many, had never heard of. A bigger success internationally than domestically, it was nominated for an assortment of awards, including a Golden Globe, a Writers Guild of America honor, and Laurel Awards for the adult leads. His film career starting to wane, Stewart would reunite with Henry Koster, who had previously directed him in Harvey, for two additional light-hearted family comedies, though he still managed to act in some movies with more of an edge.

Released to DVD by theatrical distributor 20th Century Fox back in 2005, Mr. Hobbs hit Blu-ray this month from Twilight Time, receiving 3,000 copies per the boutique label's The Limited Edition Series, available exclusively at ScreenArchives.com.

Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Screen Archives Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio (English), 2.0 DTS-HD MA (Music)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: April 8, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Still available on DVD ($14.98 SRP; September 6, 2005) and on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released on VHS (January 1, 1998)

VIDEO and AUDIO

I've repeatedly been wowed by how good Twilight Time is able to make old films look on Blu-ray with such a low profit ceiling. Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation is the most troubled transfer I've seen from them thus far and it still looks pretty nice. The 2.35:1 element is not without some slight wear: scuffs, specks, and the occasional grain. Sometimes it looks better than others, but there are usually some very minor defects you'll notice when scrutinizing. All in all, considering this is an over 50-year-old movie, the results are quite satisfactory.

The monaural soundtrack is presented in 1.0 DTS-HD master audio. Similarly, it can't entirely hide the film's age, but the dialogue and music retain some vitality, while English SDH subtitles even positioned to align with characters' placement in the frame should fill in any potential blanks for your ears. It's worth noting that lip-synching is pretty terrible on the original song, undoubtedly an issue dating back to the original release.

In one of the stranger movie-promoting photo ops, Maureen O'Hara and Jimmy Stewart autograph a football for the University of Minnesota's team in this Fox Movietone newsreel. The "Mr. Hobbs" theatrical trailer makes a big promise it can live up to.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Twilight Time includes the same two short standard definition video bonus features that accompanied Mr. Hobbs on Fox's DVD.

A Fox Movietone newsreel (1:13) shows how members of the University of Minnesota's football team, in town for the Rose Bowl, were invited to hang out with Jimmy Stewart and Maureen O'Hara at a seemingly random promotional shindig/dance for the film. Who knew they were still making newsreels in the 1960s?

There's also the film's rough-looking original theatrical trailer (2:58), something Twilight Time is excellent about including.

New for this release is an isolated music track. A standard Twilight Time feature, this is presented in 2.0 DTS-HD master audio.

Finally, another welcome standard feature for the company, an 8-page booklet serves up some stills plus an essay on the film from Twilight Time historian Julie Kirgo that establishes the film as the start of Jimmy Stewart's "grumpy, beset family man" phase and notes how the film reflects the move from wholesome Fifties-style entertainment into 1960s subversion.

The menu simply recycles the appealing cover/old poster artwork, punctuating all navigation with "swish" sounds. The disc doesn't let you set bookmarks, but does give you the opportunity to resume unfinished playback.

The Hobbs family takes a first look at the spooky, old house they'll call home for the next month in "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Like many live-action Disney efforts of the 1960s, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation cannot be called a great piece of cinema but can be celebrated as a comedy that remains thoroughly entertaining half a century later. I knew almost nothing entering the film and though it's dumb at times and often episodic and formulaic, I'd be lying if it didn't have me smiling for much of its two hours.

Twilight Time's Blu-ray is everything that Fox's would be and a little bit more. It's tough to recommend a release that would cost you two times as much as catalog discs in general retail, but the paucity of classic titles available there demonstrate that's just something collectors are increasingly have to accept as the home video industry continues to evolve.

Buy Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation exclusively at screenarchives.com

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Jimmy Stewart: It's a Wonderful Life | Maureen O'Hara: The Parent Trap | John McGiver: The Apple Dumpling Gang
1960s Comedies: Bon Voyage! That Darn Cat! The Apartment The Happiest Millionaire Babes in Toyland
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Reviewed April 28, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1962 20th Century Fox Film Corporation, and 2014 Twilight Time, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.