What is the worst vacation you’ve ever had?
And: What made it miserable?
Was it substandard accommodation? Too much time with annoying relatives?
Sometimes horrible vacations can make great stories – after the fact, of course – and sometimes they can make for a fun-loving movie.
Enter James Stewart as the unlucky Mr. Hobbs in the comedy Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962). Stewart plays a man whose family leases a beach house for the summer, on either the East or West coast of the United States. (The movie is unclear about the exact geographical location.)
It sounds like the Best! Time! Ever! But it soon becomes apparent that Stewart’s character will have to slog through this dream vacation with Gritted Teeth.
As it turns out, the holiday has enough misery for all.
Stewart-as-Hobbs narrates the film, via lengthy flashback, with surprisingly dark views of his maritime holiday.
Meanwhile, his wife (Maureen O’Hara) envisions a seaside frolic where her children and grandchildren can reconnect As A Family. O’Hara’s character wants to save her children from themselves, which always leads to Complications.
Alas, this vacation is already riddled with complications, starting with the beach house itself.
The house is as miserable as it looks. In fact, the obstinate plumbing is one of the supporting characters in this film.
Next are the sons-in-laws, one of whom is struggling with unemployment, while the other is a Know-It-All who spends an awful lot of time with a neighbouring young woman.
Additionally, Stewart’s young grandson keeps shouting he doesn’t like his grandfather, and, in one scene, throws a toy car at him. “You little creep,” Stewart mutters under his breath.
Plus, there’s the youngest daughter (Lauri Peters) who is so self-conscious of her new braces, she refuses to leave the house. Stewart and O’Hara persuade her to go to a dance, where Stewart pays youths $5 apiece to dance with her.
One of these young men is the charismatic 1950s Teen Idol, Fabian, who oozes charm and freshness, and we don’t realize how much the film needs him until he leaves the screen.
Our opinion: Some films from the late 1950s and early 1960s seem more dated today than films from the 1940s. 1940s movies, with brisk 90-minute run times, were focused and story-driven. Movies in the 1950s, however, started becoming grander (and, some cases, bloated), and their occasional self-indulgence can make them seem like artifacts from another planet.
Part of the issue may be the colour palettes of the time. (Mr. Hobbs is filmed in muted pastel colours, although we’ve posted black & white photos here. It’s a long story.) Another reason may be studios straining to break free of the weakened Production Code, while trying to appease older and younger audiences at the same time.
The latter is obvious in Mr. Hobbs, à la Stewart and O’Hara vs. Fabian and Peters. You can’t help but wonder if the teenager storyline is wedged in at regular intervals so younger audiences don’t become Bored.
Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation is based on the novel Mr. Hobbs’ Vacation by American novelist Edward Streeter. Streeter also wrote Father of the Bride, another successful Hollywood adaptation about Family Life.
Despite any shortcomings, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation is a terrific yarn with timeless messages about love and family. They say it was the inspiration for National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), and it was Marie Wilson’s final film.
So, are you planning a fabulous trip this year? We hope it will be the experience of a lifetime – in a good way – and that you’ll avoid the headaches rampant in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation.
This post is part of the TRAVEL GONE WRONG Blogathon, hosted by 18 Cinema Lane.
Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation: starring James Stewart, Eleanor Parker, Fabian. Directed by Henry Koster. Written by Nunnally Johnson. Twentieth Century Fox, 1962, Colour, 116 mins.