The precursor to family vacations gone awry such as National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) and Summer Rental (1985) (which was a Carl Reiner misfire), Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation(1962) did away with the ideal family and satirized the American summer vacation…but not in a vicious manner. It was simply a staplemark film (at least in my opinion) that showed traditional family life was less than perfect and, thankfully, there’s no sentimental prayers towards God for granting them the miracle of kids. Self-help books and gurus, especially in the Christian genre, feed off of the illusion of family bliss and if your family isn’t experiencing God’s love shining down on your “one man, one wife, three kids” set up then you must be doing something wrong. All family setups are rough-going. The fact of the matter is that most families are a pain in the ass, even while mutual love persists and it is refreshing to see that not much has changed since 1962 except the vacations are bigger and more expensive.
Mr. Hobbs, played by the wonderful Jimmy Stewart, is a martyr for his loved ones who after working all year at a bank gets to spend one month off dealing with everyone’s problems–all he really wants to do is have a cold beer and read a book. There’s minor issues like trying to relate to his son’s TV watching habits–ironically the kid likes to watch westerns which is what Stewart was known for starring prior to this film, and his younger’s daughter insecurity about her braces. The more disturbing issues are with his older daughters as one of them has a husband with an eye for other women and the other looks like she’s on the verge of divorce because her hubby is unemployed (which hits home in this economy). Mr. Hobb’s wife, played by the elegeant Maureen O’ Hara, is the only real stereotype in this film as no woman looks that good going to bed and getting up in the morning! I guess the only other stereotype consideration is the eye candy that interrupts Mr. Hobbs while trying to read War and Peace— the most buxom woman I’ve ever seen on the screen besides Jayne Mansfield (everything is spilling out of her swimsuit, certainly hips were more appreciated back then). If Hobbs could avoid all of his family’s problems he would, but of course he gets sucked in partly by his wife but partly because it feels like the right thing to do.
For freethinkers, I have to advise that this is a lighthearted comedy if you like old films and it almost feels like an experiment. There’s no straightforward plot, no real formula, just one event leading to another with Mr. Hobbs saying “Damn” occasionally or calling one of his grandkids a “creep” which surprises the viewer considering it is an older film. The most striking moment in the film is when Mr. Hobbs takes his son on a sailing trip and they find themselves lost in the fog. In a way, a sense of realism comes into the picture as it is a moment a lot of dads have experienced when their child realizes they don’t know it all and that survival is sometimes a matter of luck. Again, we don’t get a fearful moment where the father turns to prayer for rescue, but a bonding of Father and Son as they wait out the moments of dread for the fog to lift so they can attempt to get their bearings. I can recall several of those types of scenarios in my life where I had to simply take a calm approach and wait, rather than panicking or making deals with the Almighty (you get me out of this, Lord and I’ll never look at porn again).
If you have kids, I would skip having them watch this one with you as they might get bored. Though, I do have to admit liking the film in my teens when I used to watch cable, but then I was a weird kid. This movie is more about parents watching out for their kids even as they grumble over their sacrifices. It’s a nice reminder that the past wasn’t Leave it To Beaver. I just wonder how anyone was allowed to have a month off for a vacation?