DODSWORTH(director: William Wyler; screenwriters: Sidney Howard/based on Mr. Howard’s adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel to a play and the novel by Sinclair Lewis; cinematographer: Rudolph Mate; editor: Daniel Mandell; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Walter Huston (Sam Dodsworth), Ruth Chatterton (Fran Dodsworth), Mary Astor (Edith Cortright), Paul Lukas (Arnold Iselin), David Niven (Capt. Lockert), Kathryn Marlow (Emily Dodsworth McKee), John Payne (Harry McKee), Gregory Gaye (Kurt von Obersdorf), Maria Ouspenskaya (Baroness von Obersdorf), Odette Myrtle (Renee de Penable), Harlan Briggs (Tubby Pearson), Spring Byington (Matey Pearson); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel Goldwyn; United Artists; 1936)
“The smoothly flowing film packs an emotional wallop thanks largely to the endearingly sympathetic performance of the straightforward Walter Huston.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
William Wyler (“The Collector”/”Mrs. Miniver”/”Ben-Hur”), born in Alsace, of Swiss-German parentage, was brought to Hollywood in 1925, at age 23, by Universal head Carl Laemmle, his uncle, and soon made his debut as director of minor westerns–reaching recognition with his first talkie, the 1930 Hell’s Heroes. Wyler, a superb craftsman, earned a rep as being a no-nonsense autocratic director. He helms this marital problem story with great care and intelligence. It’s a perceptive, dignified and compelling drama that’s based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis. Sidney Howard is the screenwriter and it was his adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel that was made into a play.
Walter Huston plays the Midwestern, small-town of Zenith, auto mogul Sam Dodsworth, as he re-creates his popular stage role. The middle-aged blissful, reserved and unsophisticated Sam sells his business to enjoy his leisure time by touring Europe for six months at the prompting of his 40-year-old pretty but shallow, self-absorbed and vain wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton). She aspires to become a sophisticated woman of the world, who frets about becoming old and having life pass her by. The couple, who have been married for twenty years, leave their pregnant married daughter Emily (Kathryn Marlow) behind and sail on the luxury liner Queen Mary for Sam’s first trip to Europe, and on the voyage they drift apart. Fran is courted by smoothie Lothario Englishman Capt. Lockert (David Niven), and after leading him on turns down his sexual advances. Sam, in the meantime, is childishly enthused by seeing the Bishop’s Lights as the boat approaches London. The couple land in Paris, where the materialistic Sam plays tourist and goes sight-seeing, while Fran ends up with the questionable crowd of sophisticated continentals and has a fling with smoothie financier Arnold Iselin (Paul Lukas). Sam is bored with Europe, upset with his wife’s romantic activities and wants to go home, but Fran refuses. This prompts Sam to return to America alone. At home Sam becomes a grouch and realizes he misses his wife. This prompts him to return to Paris. When Fran’s affair with Arnold sours, the reunited couple continue their tour of Europe. In Vienna, Fran begins another affair with the impoverished young nobleman Kurt von Obersdorf (Gregory Gaye) and asks Sam for a divorce. The disillusioned Sam, a creature of habit who can’t change, tells her to put off her request for a few months so she can be sure and he travels on alone and accidentally reunites with a sophisticated and attractive expatriate American divorcee, Edith Cortright (Mary Astor), he met on the Queen Mary and who lives in Italy. He finds solace in Edith’s warmth, nurturing and easy going manner, but feels he must settle things with Fran after she tells him that her marriage plans with Kurt fell through. At their reunion, Sam realizes Fran can’t come to her senses as she still selfishly prattles on about her sophistication compared to their hick old friends back home, blames others for the couple’s problems and can’t admit she was the cause of their rift. At last, Sam comes to his senses and leaves her, and returns to Edith in Naples.
The smoothly flowing film packs an emotional wallop thanks largely to the endearingly sympathetic performance of the straightforward Walter Huston and the deliciously silly performance of Chatterton as the heavy.
REVIEWED ON 3/21/2008 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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