Release Date: September 23rd, 1936 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: William Wyler Actors: Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Paul Lukas, Mary Astor, David Niven, Maria Ouspenskaya, Gregory Gaye
odsworth” is one of those rare monumental movies that strikes a tender, bittersweet chord with audiences by focusing on delicate or controversial subject matter far ahead of its time – here, the rocky deterioration of a marriage contains timeless, resonant social commentary. It is a masterful examination of love and romance being affected by both aging and differences in age and a heavy-hitting reflection on infidelity, second chances, and preserving youth, all conducted with alternatingly tear-jerking and optimistic seriousness. Amazing performances, unforgettable chemistry, smart dialogue, and sensational music make “Dodsworth” one of the greatest and yet generally underappreciated and overlooked romantic dramas of all time.
After 20 years of both marriage and success as a winning automotive industrialist, Samuel Dodsworth (Walter Huston) sells off his company and plans to make a new life in retirement, learning how to enjoy the leisure he’s earned. He’s thrilled to take a cruise to Europe with his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), who is chiefly concerned with staying youthful and preserving her ideals of juvenescence. Sam is easily entertained with the friendly people and simple tourist attractions, but Fran feels stifled by his old-fashioned outlook and begins to drift away – flirting with a captain (David Niven) and the smooth-talking Iselin (Paul Lukas) and finally attracting the attentions of an esteemed Baron (Gregory Gaye). When Sam wishes to return to their comfortable hick hometown of Zenith, she can only think of her high-class friends and his unimpressive bourgeois ideas.
Companionless, Sam returns to his Midwestern abode to learn that his daughter Emily (Kathryn Marlowe) will be having a baby – and that he’s dreadfully lonely without the wife he’s always loved. In a last attempt to win her back, he resorts to ruthless measures to catch Fran cheating – and although guilt drives her to him, they soon grow even further apart. Fran’s joy of hearing about Emily’s child is comparably lessened when Dodsworth hints at their new grandparent status. Eventually, Fran demands a divorce so she can wed the Baron, which throws Sam into a confused state of grief. As he somberly journeys around Europe for a merciful distraction, he luckily reunites with widowed acquaintance Mrs. Edith Cortright (Mary Astor), a boat passenger familiar with his marital woes.
It’s poignant, intelligent, and very genuine in its approach to troubled dramatic romance, the solemn realization of a transparently waning relationship, and unintentionally timeworn dependency. The plot may sound like a soap opera, but the acting, script, and execution are absolutely perfect. One of the most affecting scenes in the film occurs when Sam boards a train after Fran announces her plans to leave him, prompting his sentimental farewell with an absolutely heartbreaking, disillusioned remark: “Did I remember to tell you today that I adore you?” Though the protagonist must undergo great emotional torment in his journey to rediscover the excitement he never achieved with his younger wife, “Dodsworth” is a film that knows how to movingly win over audiences. Not only does it think of appropriate happiness for the lead, it also insists upon total destruction for the wrongdoer – a typical Golden-Age Hollywood influence that brings about standing-ovation resolutions.
– Mike Massie