Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962)

This is the best of James Stewart’s family films during the 1960s. Stewart’s decade of the 1950s was radically different from what followed in the 1960s.

The 1950s was Stewart’s best decade of work; not only were his films very successful, but he turned in a variety of deeply convincing and challenging performances. I believe he was the best actor of the decade. Harvey aside, Stewart’s films alternated between big showy films like The Glenn Miller Story and Strategic Air Command, and his brooding Westerns and Hitchcock films.

His early 1960s films were Westerns, although only The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance rose above average. In 1962, with Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, Stewart began turning to light comedy, family films. Stewart was in his mid-50s and his leading man days were behind him. Now, he was the harried father.

Stewart’s competitor for Hitchcock roles, Cary Grant, was in the same boat. Also in his 50s, Grant’s final five films showed a quickly aging man. Stewart and Grant both had tremendous decades of the 1950s. Grant made To Catch a Thief and North By Northwest for Hitchcock and Houseboat where he teamed with a 24-year old Sophia Loren. His last film of the decade, Operation Petticoat, showed a fast maturing Grant, who would soon retire from films. Stewart would learn to chose different roles. His portrayal of a young lawyer in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, was a stretch at best, considering he was comfortably middle aged. Interestingly, Stewart’s pal Henry Fonda, had no such problem moving on to more mature and character roles in his 50s.

Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation appears to be a light-weight, paint-by-the-numbers film, but it has a certain adult coyness inside of a coming of life film mainly centered on Stewart’s children. Stewart turns in one of his steadiest performances without it turning into sentimental goo. Stewart plays a harried husband/father who instead of a romantic getaway with his wife (Maureen O’Hara), is convinced to his family, the maid and extended family, on a month long vacation to the beach.  The house is a wreck, his son-in-law is out of work and his prospective employer visits to bird watch.  There is nothing relaxing about this adventure, not even the voluptuous young woman next door, or the growing pains of his children.

The script was by Nunnally Johnson (The Grapes of Wrath, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit), one of Hollywood’s best writers, who adapted a book by Edward Streeter. Henry Koster (Harvey, The Bishop’s Wife), was well-acquainted with light, frothy material. He and Stewart had worked together before, and would re-team for several more films.

One of the delights of the film is the cast. Stewart, Koster and the producers hired a very talented group of actors to fill out the character roles. Among the cast were Michael Burns as the youngest Hobbs child, Danny, who would go on to portray many young adult roles including “Blue Boy” on Dragnet. Danny was more interested in television and stumping his father on baseball trivia. A father-son sailing adventure brought them together.

John Saxon (Enter the Dragon, The Electric Horseman) plays one of Hobbs’ sons-in-law, an intellectual and apparently a body builder. His character attracts the attention of a voluptuous neighbor (Valerie Vardi), who also raised the attention of Hobbs’ wife with the attention she showed her husband.

John McGiver and Marie Wilson played the stuffy visitors, the Turners, who Hobbs needed to impress so his out of work son-in-law could land a job. Mr. Turner was a bird watcher who Hobbs accompanied on an early morning walk. Turner has to teach Hobbs the proper way to walk and even the most basic of bird types. The Turners, who said they did not drink, were secret drinkers, and caused an embarrassing situation for Hobbs when Mr. Turner had hot water issue in the bathroom and her and Hobbs were locked in the bathroom. A soused Mr. Turner took offense and tried to fight Hobbs, who returned volley with a punch to Turner. Afraid that this ruckus scuttled the job opportunity, Hobbs learned the Turners departed early without saying goodbye. McGiver was a snooty actor who was good in any role.

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Another member of the cast was singer-actor Fabian, a teen favorite at the time. He played Joe, a young man who becomes interested in Hobbs’ youngest daughter Katey, who is going through a rough time with her new braces. In the film, Joe and Katey sing a novelty song written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. The film was designed to be slanted toward a youth audience, as a number of Stewart’s films were during this period.

As the entire family descents on the rundown, gothic beach house, Hobbs begins to realize he does not know his family, including his two youngest who are going through their own changes. His two married daughters have husbands Hobbs has only met a couple of times, and grandchildren receiving parenting Hobbs does not understand. One grandson, who refers to him as “Boompa” a name Hobbs is not thrilled with, does not seem to like Boompa.

Stewart seems challenged at every turn. From the house’s water pump to his distrustful housekeeper to the man at the yacht club with a sudden interest in Mrs. Hobbs to the entire idea of a monthlong family vacation when he was hoping for a romantic vacation with just the wife. Stewart is the everyman and living the American Dream, but is entering middle age, dealing with the generation gap, daily commutes in rush hour traffic, a wife he is still interested in, kids that may move back home, and who just tries his best to make it all fit together.

This is one of those films that I can watch anytime, even though I have seen it a million times. Stewart is a delight to watch and he works harder in this character than most of his other films.


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