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Hobson's Choice / The Sound Barrier DVD

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Hobson's Choice (1953) and The Sound Barrier (1952) is a double bill of cleverly juxtaposed films from David Lean's early canon, demonstrating that even without the landmark epics to come, British cinema would have been an infinitely poorer place without his tremendous contribution. Both films reflect his endlessly penetrating view of human behaviour and its perseverance through obstacles great and small. And both are effectively prisms that reflect all the aspects of that view, keeping the audience's sympathies constantly on the move. Hobson's Choice, based on Harold Brighouse's eternally popular 1916 comedy, boasts fine turns from Charles Laughton--at his brilliant, physical best--as the boot-shop owner with three troublesome daughters, and John Mills as the lowly boot maker, elevated and improved by the eldest daughter Maggie in a neat inversion of the Pygmalion fable. But both are kept in their place by Brenda de Banzie's portrayal of Maggie, a performance that glows with intelligence, truth and increasing warmth. The Sound Barrier is a drama about the race for a supersonic aeroplane. Superficially, its setting is quintessential post-World War II Britain: stiff upper lips, twin beds and clipped Rattigan dialogue. But it's prescient stuff. Ralph Richardson's aircraft manufacturer, sinister in his obsession, is an ominously skilful film performance. And Lean's take on the unthinkable cost of human achievement, interwoven with some spectacular cinematography, absorbs and unsettles. It's especially poignant now that the supersonic age has been summarily ended by Concorde's retirement. On the DVD: Hobson's Choice and The Sound Barrier are both black-and-white films presented in 4:3 picture format, from reasonable prints, and with a mono soundtrack of suitably robust quality for Malcolm Arnold's inventive scores. There are no extras, apart from scene indexes. --Piers Ford

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