Hobson's Choice/The Sound Barrier (Double Feature) (1953)

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Released 22-Nov-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1953
Running Time 214:29
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By David Lean

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Charles Laughton
John Mills
Brenda de Banzie
Richard Wattis
Prunella Scales
Daphne Anderson
Derek Blomfield
Helen Haye
Ralph Richardson
Ann Todd
Nigel Patrick
John Justin
Dinah Sheridan
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Malcolm Arnold

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes

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Plot Synopsis

    The United States gave us Frank Capra, Japan gave us Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki, Austria gave us Fritz Lang, Sweden gave us Ingmar Bergman, China has given us Yimou Zhang, Poland gave us Krzysztof Kieslowski, Russia gave us Sergei Eisenstein and Andrei Tarkovsky, Italy gave us Federico Fellini, and the United Kingdom gave us Alfred Hitchcock. Oh, and the United Kingdom also gave us possibly the very best of the best - David Lean.

    When you talk about the films of any of those gentlemen, basically everything they did and do was and is of value and demands your attention. So when you get the chance to watch two of their films on the same disc, you are talking seriously good value and seriously good film making.

    I am a little perplexed that this one slipped through onto the dud pile and grabbed it when the pre-Christmas rush resulted in the dud pile blowing out to significant proportions. I mean, what could be worse than having to give over a day to reviewing two great films from the master? Gads, it's a hard life but someone has to do it! He might not have had the largest filmography the world has ever seen, but lack of quantity certainly is no indication of lack of quality. When you look at that filmography - In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Summertime, The Bridge On The River Kwai and Lawrence Of Arabia amongst them - you would be hard-pressed to recall anyone with such a high rate of hits as David Lean.

    Don't think that the two films under review are not amongst that list of great films either, for these are great films - just not in the absolute upper echelon. Still, that makes them far more worthy than any number of films by the masses who can but aspire to this level of brilliance. These are consecutive films in the master's filmography: Hobson's Choice from 1953 is a great period piece featuring some terrific acting from the great Charles Laughton, whilst The Sound Barrier from 1952 is a better than decent look at the race to break the sound barrier, albeit slightly fictionalised, with terrific performances from Ralph Richardson and Mrs David Lean (otherwise known as Ann Todd).

    Henry Hobson (Charles Laughton) owns and runs a boot making and shoe store in Salford, near Manchester. Well, owns certainly but not so much runs as he has a trio of daughters to whom he leaves the running of the business whilst he partakes of the odd tipple at The Moonraker Inn over the road. Unfortunately, his unpaid daughters have designs on being married, which may upset his idyllic life - especially as he only plans to allow the two younger girls to get married. However, the eldest, Maggie (Brenda De Banzie) is the first to make a move when she announces her intention to wed the bootmaker at the shop - William Mossop (John Mills). Fearing that Maggie's decision may impede their own nuptial desires with Albert Prosser (Richard Wattis) and Freddy Beenstock (Derek Blomfield) respectively, Alice (Daphne Anderson) and Vicki (Prunella Scales) are none too happy with their eldest sister's announcement. However, with Maggie brooking no obstacle and turning the extremely talented but socially inept William into a successful businessman, Maggie also engineers the necessary settlement to enable her two sisters to marry.

    Highlighted by two terrific performances from Charles Laughton - who was born to play these sort of roles and does so with aplomb - and Brenda De Banzie, this is British filmmaking of the era at its absolute best. That is not to diminish the performances of John Mills (excellent as the at times bewildered boot maker), a young Prunella Scales and Daphne Anderson, but the film entirely succeeds on the superb direction of David Lean and the two leads. A terrific film.

    In support of that film, The Sound Barrier does not quite hold its own - but then again I would defy most films to hold their own against Hobson's Choice. The film starts in World War Two with pilot Tony Garthwaite (Nigel Patrick) plucking up the courage to ask Susan Ridgefield (Ann Todd) to marry him. The task is made just a little difficult because her old man is John Ridgefield (Ralph Richardson), very wealthy head of a major aircraft manufacturer. Whilst Susan might not be the apple of her father's eye, since she had the misfortune to be born a girl, there is nonetheless some trepidation in the meeting. However, since both men have aviation in common, there is not much problem between Tony and his new father-in-law. Ridgefield Aviation is in the middle of developing a new jet aircraft and after the war, Tony becomes chief test pilot of the Prometheus, their entry in the rush to break the sound barrier. However, things don't go exactly according to plan and John Ridgefield has to balance his industrial endeavours and goals with personal disappointments and tragedies.

    Whilst it is a somewhat fictionalised account - Ridgefield Aviation for instance is very much based upon Supermarine Aviation, whose Swift is the aircraft star here - the underlying story has a lot of truth to it, even though the British were pipped to the objective by the Americans. It certainly captures the spirit of the endeavour rather well. Even though it might not be quite in the same league as Hobson's Choice, the excellence in the film was recognised by its two 1953 Academy Award nominations, and its win for Best Sound Recording. It also won three BAFTA Awards in 1953, including Best British Actor for Ralph Richardson. He does offer up a superb performance here but that should not diminish the efforts of Ann Todd, who also does an excellent job. Astute viewers might note the flying through the clouds shot early in the film that was homaged somewhat in the opening of The Right Stuff.

    They might not be the obvious choices for some quality entertainment, but even amongst the great films David Lean made, these can hold their own. In particular Hobson's Choice is a piece of classic filmmaking that commands your attention, but both films offer plenty of fine British filmmaking and can be thoroughly recommended, especially at the price.

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Transfer Quality


    Given the age of the films, the transfers are obviously presented in a Full Frame format that very closely approximates the Academy ratio in which they were first screened. They are of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    Since they are over fifty years old, there is naturally enough a few problems with the transfers. However, those problems were somewhat less than I was anticipating. Sharpness is generally pretty good throughout, albeit a little variable. Definition is generally quite excellent and there is quite a deal of detail to be found in the transfers. Just don't expect it too much in the shadow detail, which whilst being generally very adequate does have a few lapses here and there. Low level noise is only a minor problem, mainly early on in Hobson's Choice, whilst grain is a noticeable issue mainly in The Sound Barrier. Neither of the problems are that bad and certainly do not disturb the viewing too much.

    There is some variability in the black and white tones here. Hobson's Choice is noticeable for this, with exteriors being much more grey rather than black and white, with interiors being very much black and white. The grey scales could certainly have been more consistent, but at their worst are better than average. The Sound Barrier is noticeably more consistent but this comes at the cost of slightly less sharpness in the black and white tones and a greater tendency for grey tones. Still, neither of the films are unwatchable in this regard.

    There no significant issues with MPEG artefacting in the transfer, although some minor background pixelization is to be found occasionally. Both films are somewhat let down by film-to-video artefacts, notably aliasing and occasionally moiré artefacting. The usual suspects provide the problems, such as furniture, cars and the like. It rarely gets to be too distracting, but you will not be able to ignore it. There are of course plenty of film artefacts floating around here, including some obvious film damage in The Sound Barrier at 28:21 (a rather noticeable tear in the film). It is a pity that some restoration work has not been carried out on the films, but then again we can only hope that the future will see the worth of the films noted and the time and money so spent to bring the films to their original glory.

    This is a dual layer, single sided DVD with each film contained within a layer. Accordingly, there is no layer change to be negotiated.

    As a concession to space no doubt, there are regrettably no subtitles on the DVD.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Space and cost considerations mean that there is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Since I have no desire to watch the films as silent films, I naturally enough had no option but to check out the English soundtrack.

    Dialogue comes up well in the transfers and is usually easy to understand. There is nothing significant in the way of audio sync issues in the transfer for Hobson's Choice, but there was an issue at times in The Sound Barrier. The latter will almost certainly be the result of some sloppy ADR work but it is a little obvious at times.

    The original music for both films comes from one of the finest British classical composers of the twentieth century - Malcolm Arnold. The requirements of The Sound Barrier were not exhaustive and barely made use of the talents that he has to offer. Nonetheless, the result is quite satisfying and very supportive. On the whole, though, the score for Hobson's Choice is much better and much more memorable - including the theme music for the film. Very supportive and very enjoyable.

    You really cannot expect miracles from a fifty year old soundtrack and we certainly don't get any miracles. What we do get is a thoroughly competent pair of soundtracks, with only modest blemishes to be noted. They are generally quite listenable and certainly don't suffer in any significant way from congestion. The biggest problem to be found is the slightly unnatural feel the soundtracks get when the obvious ADR work kicks in. Obviously we are not talking about any major requirement as far as speakers go here and just playing the sound through your television speakers will do fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Nothing at all but given the space required for the inclusion of two full length feature films on the one DVD, and at a medium price point to boot, there would not be much scope for too much here anyway - even if anything could be found for these fifty year old films.


    Nothing special other than the rather strident playing of the theme to Hobson's Choice over the top of it.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    I have been unable to track down any Region 1 release for the films, and the Region 2 release seems to be the exact same DVD that we have in Region 4. Accordingly, there is no preference either way, so go with whichever is the cheapest.


    At the pricing point, this would have to be one of the supreme bargains available in Region 4. Two films by arguably the greatest director to ever stand behind the camera make this an irresistible release for those with even a passing interest in cinematic history. Afforded relatively decent transfers in every respect, there is little to dissuade a wholehearted recommendation in this instance.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Sunday, January 02, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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