Dodsworth (film)

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Dodsworth
Dodsworth poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by William Wyler
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn
Merritt Hulburd
Written by Sidney Howard
Adapted from his play based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis
Starring Walter Huston
Ruth Chatterton
Paul Lukas
Mary Astor
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Rudolph Maté
Edited by Daniel Mandell
Production
  company
Samuel Goldwyn Productions
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s)
  • September 23, 1936 (1936-09-23)
Running time 101 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1.6 million[1][2]

Dodsworth is a 1936 American drama film directed by William Wyler and starring Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton and Mary Astor. Sidney Howard based the screenplay on his 1934 stage adaptation of the 1929 novel of the same name by Sinclair Lewis. Huston was likewise recreating his stage role.

The center of the film is a study of a marriage in crisis. Recently retired auto magnate Samuel Dodsworth and his wife Fran, while on their grand European tour, discover that they want very different things out of life and must now struggle with the consequences. In the process, the film also acts as an examination of the differences between US and European intellect, manners, and morals.

The film was critically praised and nominated for several Academy Awards. Dodsworth was nominated for AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies in 1997[3] and 2007.[4]

Synopsis[edit]

Samuel "Sam" Dodsworth (Walter Huston) is the successful but self-made and unsophisticated head of Dodsworth Motor Company, an American automobile manufacturing firm, based in the small Midwestern town of Zenith (also the setting for Lewis' Babbitt). His wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), obsessed with the fear of growing old and missing out on all that life outside their intensely conventional small-town existence might have to offer, convinces her spouse to sell his interest in the company and take her to Europe.

While on the luxury cruise to England, Sam meets Edith Cortright (Mary Astor), an American divorcee now living in Italy, who is sympathetic to his eagerness to expand his horizons and learn new things. Meanwhile, Fran indulges in a light flirtation with a handsome officer (David Niven), only to hastily retreat when he suggests it become more serious.

Once they reach Paris, Fran begins to view herself as a sophisticated world traveler and Sam, with his apparent interest only in seeing the usual sights and inspecting foreign auto works, as increasingly boring and unimaginative. Becoming bolder in her search for excitement, Fran pretends to be much younger than she actually is and begins spending time on her own with other men. In the process, she becomes infatuated with cultured playboy Arnold Iselin (Paul Lukas). She suggests Sam return home and allow her to spend the summer in Europe, and, feeling rather out of place in this apparently refined, urbane Old World, he consents.

He is happily welcomed by not only his old friends but his daughter (Kathryn Marlowe) and new son-in-law (John Payne), who have moved into her parents' old mansion. Before long, though, Sam realizes that life back home has left him behind--and he is tormented by the ongoing idea that Fran might have, as well. He has a detective agency confirm that she is in fact having an affair with Iselin, and he returns to Europe immediately to put a stop to it.

Fran tries to deny the affair, but breaks down when Sam reveals he's brought Iselin in to confirm everything. She immediately begs for forgiveness for disrespecting her husband, and he still feels loyalty to her and their shared past; the two decide to work on their marriage. However, it is soon evident that they have grown far apart--not least when news of their first grandchild arrives and Fran, now firmly set in her fantasy of youthfulness, recoils in horror from the idea of being considered a grandmother. She eventually informs Sam that she's leaving him for another man, a member of the nobility (Gregory Gaye), and wants a divorce. Now alone and at loose ends in Italy, Sam is fortuitously reunited with Edith, who invites him out to stay. He is enchanted with the simple, hale, outdoors life at her villa, and the two rapidly fall in love.

Their idyll is rudely disturbed when Fran's plan to marry the nobleman falls through because of the objections of his mother (Maria Ouspenskaya). An apparently chastened Fran calls off the divorce and writes to demand Sam sail with her for home. Reluctant, but feeling it's the only thing possible to do, Sam rejoins her. However, only a short time spent in her company reveals that Fran is fundamentally unchanged, and Sam finally realizes their marriage is irrevocably over: "Love has to stop somewhere short of suicide." He gets off the ship at the last moment to rejoin Edith, leaving a tearful, frightened Fran to face the real-life consequences of her fantasies.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Walter Huston and Mary Astor

Walter Huston appeared in the 1934 Broadway production, which co-starred Fay Bainter as Fran. Huston recreated his role again for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast in October 1937.[5]

This was one of two 1936 films directed by William Wyler based on plays. The other was These Three starring Miriam Hopkins which was an adaptation of Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour which was modified to conform with the Production Code. The adaptation led David O. Selznick to hire Sidney Howard for the script of Gone With the Wind.[6]

Reception[edit]

In his review in the New York Times, Frank S. Nugent described it as "admirable" and added, "William Wyler . . . has had the skill to execute it in cinematic terms, and a gifted cast has been able to bring the whole alive to our complete satisfaction . . . [the film] has done more than justice to Mr. Howard's play, converting a necessarily episodic tale . . . into a smooth-flowing narrative of sustained interest, well-defined performance and good talk."[7]

Time said it was "directed with a proper understanding of its values by William Wyler, splendidly cast and brilliantly played."[8]

The film was named one of the year's ten best by The New York Times and was one of the top twenty box office films of the year.

In 1990, Dodsworth was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 2005, Time named it one of the 100 best movies of the past 80 years.[9]

Academy Awards[edit]

Wins[10]
Nominations

References[edit]

External links[edit]