St Louis Banker Roger Hobbs (Jimmy Stewart) is looking forward to spending a quiet vacation alone with his wife Peggy (Maureen O’Hara). No kids, no distractions, no drama, no irritations, just the middle-aged couple by themselves relaxing together in a nice serene setting.
Well, that wouldn’t make too much of a funny movie if Mr. Hobbs got his way.
Peggy pulls together a giant family beach vacation. The whole crew will be there – awkward teen daughter Katey who’s self conscious about her new braces, the Hobbs’ two grown daughters currently embroiled in tense marriages, young son Danny who only wants to watch television and grandchildren who are rambunctious and don’t like their granddad. Mr. Hobbs is not too excited for this.
Add to all that, the family having to stay at a rundown beach house, a water pump that needs to be wrangled everyday, a buxom friendly neighbor who’s an eye-full, an uptight prospective employer for their out-of-work son-in-law that Hobbs is forced to entertain and a maid who is fed up with this whole getaway.
It all sounds like the makings of a classic nightmare vacation. Now instead of the tranquil getaway Mr. Hobbs was expecting, family problems and tense relationships rain down on him. He’ll have to spend his time repairing the issues everyone is dealing with and just hope he’ll have enough time to finish reading War and Peace.
Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation is based on the book Mr. Hobbs’ Vacation by Edward Streeter. Decades before Chevy Chase went on his Vacation series and John Candy starred in Summer Rental, family vacations had already become targets for screwball comedies.
It’s funny comparing Mr. Hobbs with later ‘vacation comedies’, especially Summer Rental, the 1985 Carl Reiner directed comedy, which uses pretty much the same exact setting and has many of the the same gags. One could almost view it as a straight remake. The overworked father wanting to get away from the dirt and traffic of the city, staying at a ramshackle beach house, a big busted woman distracting the father, a daughter’s summertime romance, some boating scenes. There are a lot of similarities. I have to wonder if Reiner used Mr. Hobbs as inspiration.
The main difference is 1962 family comedy sensibilities were different than 1985. You might expect to see an old quaint Disney version of the ‘vacation of hell’ movie – and that’s exactly how it plays.
Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation plays as a quaint family sitcom of a movie. It gave the then 53-year-old Stewart a light breezy project as he hit middle-age and he began to navigate the latter part of his career. It’s inoffensive, safe, has a few jokes that land, but just as many that don’t.
The Hobbs’ awkward teen daughter finding romance with singer star Fabian hijacks way too much of the runtime, but Stewart’s charisma and comedic abilities manages to hold the film together as it starts to run out of steam towards the end.
While it’s not a homerun there is some entertainment and funny moments. The running gag of Stewart having to unload all the luggage all by himself of every car that pulls up is fun. The look on Stewart’s face saying, “I wish I was back at the office” is a hoot.
The boating excursion with his son is amusing and ends with a nice touch of sentimental ‘father/son bonding. There’s dealing with the ancient water pump Stewart continually battles and takes pride in defeating. The answer to the mystery behind the family’s maid being insulted by what she believes is a swearing Stewart is a very good chuckle.
Stewart’s unruly grandchildren. His daughter believes in a type of ‘no discipline’ type of upbringing for them. So, they go about breaking things and don’t hold their tongues expressing their distaste for their ‘Boom Pa’. Last we have John McGiver, giving one of his patented stuffy performances that gives Stewart much to react, struggle and stammer to.
Those things I would say are the highlights. But for a two-hour movie there’s enough drag time to make your eyes and mind wander.
The story of Katey (Lauri Peters) is a big portion in the movie, but I just simply didn’t care about that story and it became a boring subplot. I’m sure teens who went to see the film in 1962 were excited to see Fabian come in, sweep her off her feet and watch them do the duet of ‘Cream Puff’, but it’s not for me. Granted, the song is fun, but just way too much time is spent on her and there aren’t any laughs to be found when the movie goes down that road.
The Hobbs’ grown daughters sort of just fill in the time. There’s nothing really special worth mentioning about what they bring to the proceedings – other than the annoying kids. A very young John Saxon plays Hobbs’ pompous son-in-law professor, but other than being Saxon and seeing him so young and buff, his character doesn’t contribute much to the comedy.
Out of all the family, the biggest crime is Stewart’s leading lady, Maureen O’Hara. This was the first time they were teamed onscreen. Mrs. Hobbs is basically a straight forward ‘wife role’. Nothing unique, nothing exciting, just a bland type of spouse role. It’s a pretty thankless part and O’Hara is unable to do anything special with it or make any kind of memorable mark in the movie.
We know she has charisma, she looks great, but she simply goes through the motions of being the pleasant, supportive, dutiful wife. It’s a very decorative part. It’s too bad Mrs. Hobbs wasn’t written to incorporate more of the feistiness and energy that she brought to many roles. Give her more meat and depth to play.
Maybe have her and Mr. Hobbs going through a tense time in their relationship and her and Stewart were able to trade some verbal barbs. Then, again this was a movie meant for the entire family, so they probably didn’t want to go down that road. So, O’Hara fills in a role practically any actress could have done.
Henry Mancini provides a nice bouncy score and having been filmed in CinemaScope gives the illusion you’re in for a picturesque, film filled with laughs with Stewart and O’Hara. It’s a shame that’s not the results. It’s little surprise it’s fallen into the cracks of Stewart’s and O’Hara’s careers and doesn’t get talked about very much.
Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation sits as an inoffensive beach vacation excursion. I’d say it’s an innocent time killer if you came upon it on a lazy Sunday afternoon. If you haven’t seen it, there’s not much point in making an effort to seek it out.