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After years of hard work building an automotive empire, Midwesterner Sam Dodsworth decides to retire and take his wife Fran on an extended and long overdue trip to Europe. Sam, who has spent his life focused on work, is a wide-eyed American abroad, eager to take in the sights, experience new places, then return home to his comfortable, familiar life. Fran, however, is over 40 and frightened of growing old, a fear compounded by the birth of the Dodsworths' first grandchild. To hold middle age at bay, she engages in flirtations with mostly younger men, something her husband regards as essentially harmless at first. But Fran's desperation and her frustration with Sam's simple middle-class tastes and habits soon draw a wedge between them. As her affairs become more serious and more deluded, Sam finds himself torn between the urge to save his marriage and his attraction to a beautiful and sensitive expatriate, Edith Cortright.
Director: William Wyler
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Screenplay: Sidney Howard, based on his play and the novel by Sinclair Lewis
Cinematography: Rudolph Mat
Editing: Daniel Mandell
Art Direction: Richard Day
Original Music: Alfred Newman (uncredited)
Cast: Walter Huston (Sam Dodsworth), Ruth Chatterton (Fran Dodsworth), Mary Astor (Edith Cortright), Paul Lukas (Arnold Iselin), David Niven (Captain Clyde Lockert).
BW-101m. Closed captioning.
Why DODSWORTH Is Essential
When the great films of the 1930s are discussed, one rarely hears much about Dodsworth. Yet this overlooked movie is one of the most literate, sensitively acted and beautifully directed of its time. In fact, the film has barely dated at all; thanks to witty, insightful dialogue, restrained and natural performances on the part of the entire cast (especially star Walter Huston), and a production that does justice to the engaging, still relevant themes of the source material, Sinclair Lewis's 1929 novel, Dodsworth holds up remarkably well today as an adult drama with just the right mix of conflict and gentle humor.
Perhaps part of the reason for its neglect is its disappointing reception at the time of its release. Although it was not a total flop, producer Sam Goldwyn hoped it would be a bigger box office success; later in his career he would alternate between saying he made a fortune off Dodsworth and that it was a major money loser. It may have been simply too serious, too subtle, and too sophisticated for the taste of the general public.
In addition, Dodsworth bucked the accepted wisdom of the motion picture business of the time by casting non-stars in a story that pushed the limits of both the Production Code and audience expectations with its frank depiction of marital infidelity and the couple's inevitable breakup, two aspects of the narrative that make it all the more worthy of respect.
On the other hand, Dodsworth did garner favorable critical response - much of it for Walter Huston's performance - and a number of nominations and awards. And the film succeeded as a cinematically satisfying adaptation of a popular literary property, an important goal in Goldwyn's successful independent career. The producer was very interested in bringing important plays and novels to the screen, having less to do with his own intellectual reach than a desire to be seen as a filmmaker of refined taste and lofty ambitions.
In the early years of sound, studios often looked to the stage for new properties and talent, and 1936 saw the release of several theatrical adaptations with varying degrees of success. Dodsworth's director William Wyler, another filmmaker with a penchant for literary material, made two such films that year, the other being a bowdlerized version of Lillian Hellman's play The Children's Hour, released under the title These Three, which was also produced by Goldwyn. But it's hard to find an adaptation that not only stayed as faithful to its original but amplified it as well as Dodsworth. The result is neither a bastardization of its source nor an embalmed reproduction, as many too often were, but a richly textured work that stands entirely on its own as a film.
by Rob Nixon
Wyler and Howard wrote a scene not in Lewis's book or the play in which Sam has his portrait sketched by an artist at a Paris cafe. Thinking his wife will enjoy it, he buys the cafe table and takes it back to the hotel. When Fran returns from shopping, Sam has gone out again, and seeing the table, she wipes it clean with an irritated gesture. Wyler decided to cut the scene from the script before filming, wiring Howard back in New York: "Tabletop scene will have to wait for another famous American movie." A similar scene was used by Francois Truffaut in Jules et Jim (1961) with Jules sketching a woman's face on a cafe table and Jim attempting to buy it. It's not known whether Truffaut had any knowledge of the Wyler-Howard scene.
Years later Goldwyn considered remaking Dodsworth with Clark Gable, but the project never came about.
A remake was also considered recently with Harrison Ford in the title role.
A television adaptation was aired in 1950 on the Prudential Family Playhouse with Ruth Chatterton recreating the role of Fran. Walter Abel played Sam, and a young Eva Marie Saint was also in the cast.
Sinclair Lewis's novels brought new words and phrases into the language. Main Street became an everyday reference for quiet, conservative small town life, while the title character of his novel Babbitt entered into common usage as a term for an unwavering conformist to middle-class values. "Dodsworth," however, did not become a part of the language. The rock group Aerosmith insists their name was in no way inspired by Lewis's novel Arrowsmith.
by Rob Nixon
Director William Wyler and producer Samuel Goldwyn had a long and fruitful association-nine movies between their first, Barbary Coast (1935), and their last, the Oscar®-winning The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). The relationship wasn't always a smooth one. Unhappy with the work Howard Hawks had done on Come and Get It (1936), Goldwyn fired him from the picture and assigned his contractee Wyler to take it over. Wyler and Hawks were friends, and taking a job from another director, particularly one as highly respected as Hawks, was not the best form. Wyler repeatedly refused, sending the bedridden Goldwyn into such a rage that his wife Frances began beating him across the legs with a flyswatter while he screamed at Wyler. Informed by his lawyer that he had no choice, Wyler reluctantly took the assignment.
Making an inside joke reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock, Wyler put himself into one shot, as a violin player in the Vienna nightclub where Fran goes dancing with her Austrian suitor. "Don't cut shot of orchestra, whatever you do," he memoed editor Daniel Mandell.
Sidney Howard's writings for the stage have been adapted into many films, most often by himself. His Pulitzer Prize-winning play They Knew What They Wanted was the basis for the films The Secret Hour (1928) and A Lady to Love (1930). It was also produced under its original title in 1940 with Carole Lombard and Charles Laughton (and although not credited as such, the story of the 1957 movie Wild Is the Wind, based on a novel by Vittorio Novarese, bears some resemblance to Howard's play). The play was also made into the Broadway musical The Most Happy Fella years after Howard's death.
Sidney Howard was the first American writer to win both a Pulitzer Prize (for his 1924 play They Knew What They Wanted) and an Academy Award (his screenplay for Gone with the Wind, 1939, awarded posthumously).
Dodsworth previewed at the Warner Bros. Hollywood Theater in Los Angeles to an invitation-only crowd and opened a week later at New York's Rivoli Theatre on September 18, 1936.
Dodsworth was re-released in 1946.
"I do not see how a better motion picture could have been made from both the play and the novel." Sinclair Lewis, in a cable to Sam Goldwyn shortly after the film's opening.
"I can only thank you for such a distinguished and lively job of directing." Sidney Howard in a cable to William Wyler.
"I cannot remember having enjoyed a picture as much as Dodsworth in a long time. It is really marvelous." director Ernst Lubitsch in a cable to William Wyler.
"The book was good, the play was good and the picture was wonderful, and I still think Edith Cortright is my favorite character." Mary Astor, A Life on Film (Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1971).
"I lost my goddam shirt. I'm not saying it wasn't a fine picture. It was a great picture, but nobody wanted to see it. In droves." Sam Goldwyn.
"One of the biggest hits I ever had. It made a fortune." Sam Goldwyn
A man who enjoyed the quiet rural life, Howard maintained a hobby farm in Massachusetts. He died there in August 1939 at the age of 48, crushed to death in a tractor accident.
Sidney Howard's close working relationship with Sam Goldwyn (they made eight pictures together between 1929 and 1939) carried into their personal lives. In 1950, Howard's daughter Jennifer married Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., with whom she had four children, including actor-director Tony Goldwyn.
Sinclair Lewis's novels and stories have been made into numerous films. Babbitt and Main Street were each adapted twice, and Arrowsmith was filmed in 1931 and again as a mini-series on Czech TV in 1999. Burt Lancaster won a Best Actor Academy Award in the title role of the film version of Lewis's Elmer Gantry (1960).
Walter Huston appeared earlier in another Sinclair Lewis adaptation, Ann Vickers (1933), opposite Irene Dunne. Considered one of the finest actors of his generation, Huston didn't make his first film until he was in his mid-40s. In addition to Dodsworth, he was nominated for Best Actor as the Satanic Mr. Scratch in The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) and Best Supporting Actor as George M. Cohan's father in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). He was finally awarded a Best Supporting Actor statuette for his role in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), written and directed by his son John Huston.
Ruth Chatterton stood by her co-star Mary Astor during Astor's scandal-ridden divorce and custody proceedings and appeared as a character witness on her behalf.
The low opinion David Niven held of William Wyler was apparently mutual. The director complained about the actor's ability in their third and final film together, Wuthering Heights (1939): "When he had to cry in [Cathy's] death scene, the tears came out of his nose instead of his eyes." Niven also worked with Wyler in an uncredited bit in the Miriam Hopkins-Edward G. Robinson movie Barbary Coast (1935).
Hungarian-born Paul Lukas, who plays the oily sophisticate Arnold Iselin, one of the objects of Fran Dodsworth's amorous attentions, never made it to leading man star status. He did, however, win a Best Actor Oscar® (and several other awards) for his role as a member of an anti-Nazi underground in Watch on the Rhine (1943) opposite Bette Davis.
A native of Russia, Maria Ouspenskaya received her first Best Supporting Actress nomination for her single four-minute scene-and first American film appearance-in Dodsworth. A dominant Broadway actress in the 1920s, she was also an important teacher and founder of New York's School of Dramatic Art. In fact, she took the role in this picture to help support the school. A student and proponent of the Stanislavsky method, she taught future acting teachers Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg. Despite her many distinguished roles, she is probably most familiar to a wide audience as the mother of the werewolf in The Wolf Man (1941).
John Payne made his film debut in this picture. He went on to become a popular leading man of the 1930s and 40s, primarily at Fox, where he often appeared opposite Alice Faye and Betty Grable.
Memorable Quotes from DODSWORTH:
SAM DODSWORTH (Walter Huston): How would any man feel who just sold 20 years of his life?
FRAN DODSWORTH (Ruth Chatterton): I can't go on liking the same things forever and ever. ... I'm begging for life. No, I'm not, I'm demanding it.
FRAN: Why is it that traveling Americans are always so dreadful?
CAPTAIN LOCKERT (David Niven): Why is it Americans are always such snobs?
EDITH CORTRIGHT (Mary Astor): Drifting isn't nearly so pleasant as it looks.
FRAN: Oh, you're hopeless. You haven't the mistiest notion of civilization.
SAM: Yeah, well maybe I don't think so much of it, though. Maybe clean hospitals, concrete highways, and no soldiers along the Canadian border come near my idea of civilization.
FRAN: (lying about her age) No woman enjoys getting to be 35.
EDITH: When you're my age, you'll look back on 35 as a most agreeable time of life, Mrs. Dodsworth.
FRAN: I hope I look as young as you do when I'm you're age.
EDITH: You're almost sure to, my dear.
FRAN: Why should I divorce you? You're my husband.
SAM: You couldn't very well divorce me if I weren't.
BARONESS VON OBERSDORF (Maria Ouspenskaya): Have you thought how little happiness there can be for the old wife of a young husband?
EDITH: I suspect most people travel to get away from themselves.
SAM: Well, I've been at it three months now. I'm glad to know why.
SAM: Love has got to stop someplace short of suicide.
Compiled by Rob Nixon
Sinclair Lewis was already an established and respected writer when he published his novel Dodsworth in 1929. An insightful critic of American society and capitalist values, he was known for creating complex, vibrant characters with a degree of sympathy that mitigated his often satirical approach. His greatest novels came prior to this, but Dodsworth was well received, and a year after its publication, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first American to be so honored, "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters." Critical opinion of Lewis's work has wavered over the years, although critics have noted his important influence on all 20th century literature that followed him, and in the 1920s and 30s, his books were enormously popular. Dodsworth was considered especially successful in tackling the theme of Americans in Europe familiar to readers of Henry James, but with a much more gentle view of the middle class than Lewis had exhibited in his earlier novels Babbitt and Main Street. He also showed Europe to be a liberating force for his title character, who suffers at the hands of his restless and scornful wife.
Three months after its publication, Dodsworth had sold 85,000 copies, and screenwriter-playwright Samson Raphaelson expressed an interest in making a dramatic adaptation. That never happened, but in 1932 Broadway producer Gilbert Miller struck a deal with playwright Sidney Howard, who by then had purchased the rights to the book, to create a theatrical version.
Sidney Howard already had a number of successful stage productions under his belt, as well as a Pulitzer Prize for his 1924 play They Knew What They Wanted, when he was hired by independent producer Sam Goldwyn to write and adapt screenplays. An Academy Award nominee for his screenplay of the Goldwyn/John Ford production of Lewis's Arrowsmith (1932), Howard thought Dodsworth would also make a fine film and brought it to the producer's attention in 1932. Goldwyn rejected it as a middle-age romance with no box office potential so Howard bought it himself for the stage.
Walter Huston began acting in 1909 and made his Broadway debut in 1924. Although he had been working frequently in films since 1929 and created memorable roles in several respected productions, he was not the typical Hollywood leading man and always retained his love of the stage. Nearly 50 when he was offered the part of Sam Dodsworth, he jumped at the chance to play Lewis's character. Fay Bainter, who had been on stage for several years, was cast as his wife, Fran. The production was a smash New York success, and toured the country to great acclaim for almost a year.
Huston credited much of his success in the stage version to his years acting in front of a camera. "I was certainly a better actor after my five years in Hollywood," he said. "I had learned to be natural-never to exaggerate. I found I could act on the stage in just the same way as I acted in a studio: using my ordinary voice, eliminating gestures, keeping everything extremely simple."
With the play a huge hit, Goldwyn changed his mind about the property and bought it from Howard (who was also secured to write the screenplay) for $60,000, a much higher price than he would have paid when Howard first brought it to him. "I don't care," Goldwyn told Howard. "This way I buy a successful play. Before it was just a novel."
Goldwyn's first choice to direct the picture was Gregory La Cava but he was so impressed with William Wyler's work on These Three (1936), adapted from Lillian Hellman's play The Children's Hour, that he decided to offer him the picture.
Wyler had seen Howard's play in New York and Cincinnati and was very enthusiastic about doing the film. He was also eager to work with Walter Huston again after their good experience together on A House Divided (1931).
Howard already had a considerable leg up on writing the screenplay, since his stage adaptation, with its 14 different scenes, already had a slight cinematic feel to it (it's possible that was intentional as a selling point for the studios in Hollywood). It also had the strong advantage of being created with the help of Sinclair Lewis himself, who was surprisingly adaptable to the needs of the stage and amenable to making major changes. Sam's interior monologue from the book was jettisoned, and with Lewis's help, Howard made the character stronger and more confident. The stage script had also already successfully brought the focus of the story down to the crumbling marriage while remaining true to the novel's larger spirit, and with the knowledge that the strongest suit of all - Huston's performance -was already included in the contract, Howard felt confident about making the transition to the screen.
Wyler thought Howard's script excellent but still wanted to do more work on it and secured Goldwyn's permission to work with the writer. The two liked each other and collaborated easily at either Howard's Manhattan apartment or the city's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where Wyler was staying. They came up with new details about the Dodsworths' Grand Tour that weren't in the novel. Most of the newly invented material, however, never made it to the screen.
One aspect of the story in which Wyler and Howard were in sync was the depiction of Fran, who the director felt came off as "a bitch at the outset." Howard, too, feared the story could be harsh in tone, particularly where the character of the wife was concerned. They decided to make a case for Fran as someone who had put in long service maintaining a home and family for a heavily career-focused man and who feared advancing age and the prospect of life passing her by.
Maria Ouspenskaya, Harlan Briggs and Beatrice Maude were all retained for the film from the original stage production. But Fay Bainter, who played Fran Dodsworth on stage and only had one film to her credit, was bypassed in favor of Ruth Chatterton, also a renowned stage actress who had enjoyed brief movie stardom in the late 20s and early 30s. Bainter, however, would go on to a long and successful screen career after the year of Dodsworth's release.
Huston wanted his wife, Nan "Ninetta" Sunderland, to play the part of the beautiful sensitive widow Edith Cortright, whom Sam meets on his journey through Europe. She had played the part on stage and had a few small film roles to her credit, but Goldwyn decided against her. He wanted relative unknown Rosalind Russell or silent-era beauty Dolores Costello, eager to return to the screen after her recent divorce from John Barrymore. Wyler liked the idea of Costello but nixed Russell as not having a "striking enough" personality. Goldwyn finally settled on Mary Astor, a veteran of more than 80 films in her 15 years in movies.
Goldwyn must have felt good about the commercial potential of the story alone because the final casting did not reflect the top drawing stars of the day. Now in middle age, Huston had never been a major star, and his last few pictures before returning to the stage had not done well. Chatterton was already at the end of her screen career after a few brief years of stardom. And despite roles in a number of big pictures, Astor's name could not be counted on to sell tickets. Dodsworth had neither opportunities to showcase the glamorous young stars who had risen to prominence with the advent of sound nor the prospect of appealing to the growing audience of young moviegoers, but Goldwyn stood by his decision to make a movie about "a man who held onto his pride-then surrendered his soul to love."
by Rob Nixon
After spending Christmas with Walter Huston and his family in the mountains, Wyler began production on Dodsworth in early 1936 at the Goldwyn studio in Hollywood.
Although Dodsworth was shot entirely in the studio, Wyler sent a camera crew to London, Paris, Vienna, Montreux and Naples for background shots that would be projected behind the sets to recreate the Dodsworths' European tour. Wyler knew many of the locales from personal travels and gave minutely detailed instructions about the kinds of shots he wanted, but many of them were rejected in the final cut in order to keep the film from feeling like a travelogue. Only those crucial to the story survived.
Wyler and Huston were friends who worked well together, especially since their ideas about screen acting perfectly meshed. "No acting ruses, no acting devices, just the convincing power that comes from complete understanding of a role," Wyler noted. He credited Huston's thousands of hours on stage in the role with making for a "letter-perfect" film performance.
Wyler did not enjoy the same easy relationship with Ruth Chatterton. The two fought bitterly day to day on the interpretation of Fran. Chatterton felt she should be played entirely as a villainess, whereas Wyler found reasons to sympathize with the character. The tension was also increased, according to co-star Mary Astor, by Chatterton's own desperation at her advancing age. At 43, she was far from an old woman but well past the age when actresses typically enjoyed continued audience appeal and their choice of roles. Once a big star on stage, and briefly one in films a few years earlier, her success was waning, and according to Wyler, she exhibited very "haughty" behavior on the set. She was self-conscious about her figure, her looks, insisting on daily facials to maintain a youthful glow. Her insecurities manifested themselves as hatred and fear toward Wyler and his multiple-take working method. At one point, she reportedly slapped the director's face and locked herself in her dressing room.
Another actor who did not enjoy the experience was David Niven in one of his first important, but relatively minor roles. Niven later said he was "bloody miserable" working with Wyler, whom he described as a "Jekyll and Hyde" and "a sonofabitch to work with." Although conceding Wyler could be "kind, fun and cozy" off the set, Niven said "he became a fiend the moment his bottom touched down in his director's chair." Wyler was not terribly impressed with Niven's talent either, later noting that he was little more than "a sort of playboy around town." But the director thought that since Niven was essentially playing himself on screen, he was perfect for the part of the charming cad Captain Lockert.
Mary Astor enjoyed working with Wyler, finding him to be "an inspirational director, tough and exacting but sensitive." She especially appreciated how he ended the film on a close-up of her, not strictly out of vanity but from the awareness that the audience would enjoy having the story end on the high note of Edith's radiance at seeing Sam return to her.
Astor's off-screen life at the time was tumultuous to say the least. Prior to signing on to play Edith, she had begun proceedings to gain custody of her daughter by her defunct marriage to Dr. Franklin Thorpe. Just a few weeks into production on Dodsworth, the private matter exploded into public scandal when portions of her diary were leaked to the press to discredit her. The passages that got the most attention were graphic descriptions of her affair with playwright George S. Kaufman, who was forced into hiding to avoid being hounded by reporters. Astor took the same evasive action by moving into her dressing room on the set. Executives at Goldwyn's studio insisted he invoke a morals clause in her contract and fire her from the picture. But Goldwyn came to her defense by declaring, "A mother fighting for her child, that's good."
Astor said the main strength she drew on throughout the ordeal was the role she was playing on screen, a character she saw as three-dimensional, a little foolish perhaps but completely human and possessed of the confidence Astor felt she was lacking herself. "When I went into court and faced the bedlam...that would have broken me up completely, I kept the little pot boiling that was Edith Cortright." The diary was ruled inadmissible in court, custody was divided between Astor and her ex, and the scandalous little book was burned.
Wyler spent an entire afternoon shooting a take of a letter crumpled by Fran and set aflame by her lover. He wanted it to blow gently along the length of the terrace of the villa she has rented, slowly at first, stop momentarily, and then flutter away as the shot goes to black. The hours of painstaking perfectionism paid off in a touching image emblematic of the failing marriage.
by Rob Nixon
In 1990, Dodsworth was chosen by the National Film Preservation Board to be preserved in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
In 2005, Time named Dodsworth one of the 100 best movies of the previous 80 years.
THE CRITICS CORNER
"It would have been an inexcusable accident had Walter Huston's Dodsworth not been fine, but there hasn't been any accident and the Huston Dodsworth should please people who saw the play and people who didn't." The New Yorker, 1936.
"Walter Huston...gives a performance that makes you forget acting." Archer Winston.
"It is so far above the common run of films that it is likely to make anyone who sees it impatient with the ordinary cinema product for months after." Journalist Edward Carberry.
"Dodsworth remains, through the years, a man we can understand and believe and respect. Mr. Huston deserves most of the credit for that by treating the character as it deserves: with sympathy, humor, delicacy, irony, crudity, all in their turn. It must be a studied characterization, but we are never permitted to feel that, for Mr. Huston so snugly fits the part we cannot tell where the garment ends and he begins." Frank Nugent, New York Times, September 24, 1936.
"...produced by Sam Goldwyn with great care and taste...There's only one problem, really, but it's central: Sidney Howard also did the screenplay, and the movie follows the stage version too closely. It looks programmed and underpopulated, though in an elegantly stylized way." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies.
"Huston is superb as the plainspoken Midwestern businessman whose blissful world falls apart. The film remains the most emotionally compelling of Wyler's career." Elliott Stein, The Village Voice, September 11-17, 2002
"...Dodsworth is a Wyler film: a sober, shrewd adaptation...level, fair, and very well acted." - David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.
"No one, I think, will fail to enjoy it, in spite of its too limited and personal plot, the sense it leaves behind of a very expensive, very contemporary Bond Street vacuum flash." - Graham Greene.
"...a superb motion picture and a golden borealis over the producer's name...Picture has a steady flow and an even dramatic wallop from zippy start to satisfying finish...It is also obvious that this is Ruth Chatterton's fanciest opportunity on the screen in a long while. Fran Dodsworth is a silly, vain, selfish, shallow kitten and in the playing of Chatterton comes to life with vividness and humanity." - Variety Movie Guide.
"Satisfying, well-acted drama from a bestselling novel, production values high." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.
"An offering of dignity and compelling power to provide you with a treat you can rarely experience in a picture house." - Hollywood Spectator.
"Dodsworth is the type of film you rarely see: a drama about adults and geared toward adults that doesn't pander to a lowest common denominator or insult the intelligence of its audience. It does not feel the need to gloss over the hard truths of the subject matter, but tells us the story straight, without sentiment. In a lot of ways it's similar to Closer (2004) and Scenes from a Marriage (1973) in its handling of sensitive issues such as estrangement and reconciliation. It perhaps isn't the most original of stories, and for that we can blame humanity more than a group of filmmakers. Happily married people get divorced all the time. But sometimes they are better off for it." - 100 Films, http://lmcnelly15.blogspot.com/2005/11/100-films-dodsworth.html
"The only Oscar® it won was for Art Direction, which it deserved. But the most criminally non-awarded nomination the film garnered was Huston's Best Actor turn. Huston's flawless performance as Sam Dodsworth is the film's greatest joy. When Huston pores over a sea captain's map, then drags Fran off the dance floor to see a lighthouse off the coast of England, your heart goes out to this middle-aged man who still takes a boyish delight in the world around him. Likewise, when he withstands Fran's veiled insults in front of her friends, or tries to wait out her midlife crisis, you can sense his pain all too well. It's not so much a performance as it is a perfect habitation of a character, and it should have been rewarded by Hollywood." - Catherine Catieri, Apollo Movie Guide.
"Superb adaptation of Sinclair Lewis novel about middle-aged American industrialist who retires, goes to Europe, where he and his wife find differing sets of values and new relationships...intelligently written...beautifully filmed, extremely well acted..." - Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide.
AWARDS AND HONORS
Dodsworth received seven Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Huston), Supporting Actress (Maria Ouspenskaya), Sound Recording, and Art Direction for Richard Day, who won in his category.
Walter Huston won the New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor Award.
Compiled by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford
Sam Goldwyn, the most successful independent producer of his time, had a penchant for adapting great literary works to the screen (many of them directed by William Wyler) whether they were based on novels (Emile Zola's Nana (1934), Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, 1939) or plays (Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes (1941), Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, 1959). In 1936 he had one of his greatest successes, and scored a literary double whammy, by acquiring the film rights to Sidney Howard's play Dodsworth, based on the acclaimed novel by Sinclair Lewis. With this film and two others of the period, Come and Get It (1936), in production at the same time as Dodsworth, and Cynara (1932), Goldwyn pushed the limits of what was considered acceptable screen fare at the time, dealing as they did with marital infidelities and the desire for a last romantic fling as old age approaches.
The story follows the break-up of the marriage of a respectable middle-class Midwestern couple, Sam and Fran Dodsworth. Financially well off and their children grown, the wife seeks a little adventure in middle age and talks her husband into an extended trip to Europe. Flighty and snobbish, Fran begins to consider her husband a stuffed shirt and soon takes up with a Continental Lothario. Sam tries desperately to salvage his marriage but the damage is done and he eventually begins a new life with another woman, Edith (Mary Astor).
The film, one of the most mature and adult dramas of the period, was among the top 20 box office hits of the year and included in the New York Times Ten Best list. Richard Day's art direction won an Academy Awardreg; and nominations went to the picture, lead actor Walter Huston (recreating his 1934 stage role and resuscitating his ailing film career), supporting actress Maria Ouspenskaya, director William Wyler, Sidney Howard's screenplay and Oscar Lagerstrom's sound recording. Huston won the New York Film Critics Circle's Best Actor Award. In 1990, the film was chosen to be one of the motion pictures preserved on the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.
Huston, Ouspenskaya and Harlan Briggs were retained from the Broadway cast. Although Fay Bainter won praise for her stage work as Fran and had already established herself in films, Goldwyn chose to cast Ruth Chatterton in the role. A Broadway star by 1914 and a popular leading lady in films of the late 1920s and early '30s, Chatterton's career was waning by the time she made Dodsworth. But that didn't diminish some reportedly diva-like behavior during this production, and she constantly bucked Wyler's interpretation. "She played Fran like a heavy and we had momentous fights every day," Wyler later said. The director saw no reason why Fran should be totally unsympathetic just to make audiences relate more to her husband's plight. "You could make a case for Fran Dodsworth," he said, "a woman who for twenty-five years has been a good wife, taken care of her husband while he got rich, brought up their children and everything. Now he's retiring and she wants a fling; she wants to live." (From Goldwyn by A. Scott Berg).
Chatterton wasn't the only one Wyler had difficulties with during production. Although the two worked together on nine films between 1935 and 1946, Wyler and Goldwyn were often at odds despite Goldwyn's policy of rarely interfering with the talent he employed. When the producer came onto the set of Dodsworth one day, Wyler immediately shut down production, refusing to continue until Goldwyn left. From that point, the autocratic director put it into his contract that Goldwyn was never to be present during shooting. Forever afterwards, Goldwyn had mixed feelings about Dodsworth. Once he stated, "I lost my goddamn shirt. I'm not saying it wasn't a fine picture. It was a great picture, but nobody wanted to see it. In droves." Yet he was also known to say just the opposite and was once quoted as saying Dodsworth "was one of the biggest hits I ever had. It made a fortune!"
Wyler, for his part, was a known perfectionist in his approach to filming. One cast member recalled "one entire afternoon spent shooting a scene of a crumpled letter being blown gently along the length of a terrace. He wanted it to go slowly for a way, then stop, and then flutter along a little further." (From A Talent For Trouble by Jan Herman). Luckily, he had Rudolph Mate as his cinematographer and Dodsworth is full of stunning, deep focus compositions such as the scene where Sam and Edith accidentally meet in Naples at an American Express office.
Despite the prestigious casting of Huston and Chatterton, the cast member who garnered the most attention was Mary Astor, not for her work in the picture but for her private life. Ironically playing the "other woman," Astor was embroiled in a divorce and custody battle that erupted into one of Hollywood's biggest scandals. During the court case, her husband leaked portions of her diary to the press, in which Astor graphically described her affair with playwright and columnist George S. Kaufman. The scandal got so intense, Astor was forced to sleep in her dressing room at the studio to avoid reporters stationed at her house. "I know this is going to sound a little strange, but the person I clung to as a friend through all this was the character I was playing," Astor wrote in her autobiography. The trial ended in a split custody decision, and Astor's career miraculously survived. In fact, many audiences broke into applause over Astor's performance in Dodsworth, particularly during the emotional finale when Edith opens her arms ecstatically to welcome Sam home.
Remakes have occasionally been announced but never completed. Among the aborted attempts were a 1977 version that was to have starred Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor and a 1982 TV version that Gregory Peck planned to star in and produce.
Director: William Wyler
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Screenplay: Sidney Howard, based on his play and the novel by Sinclair Lewis
Cinematography: Rudolph Mate
Editing: Daniel Mandell
Art Direction: Richard Day
Cast: Walter Huston (Sam Dodsworth), Ruth Chatterton (Fran Dodsworth), Mary Astor (Edith Cortright), Paul Lukas (Arnold Iselin), David Niven (Capt. Lockert).
BW-101m. Closed captioning.