Directed by William Wyler
Samuel Goldwyn Productions/United Artists
US, 101 minutes
Starring Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, David Lukas, Mary Astor
“Love has to stop someplace short of suicide.”
That is a quote from the ending of William Wyler’s 1936 masterpiece, Dodsworth. Walter Huston, as the titular Sam Dodsworth yells it to his much younger wife, Fran, played by Ruth Chatterton, who has learned nothing from her experiences in the film. She ironically asks Dodworth if he was the one who had learned anything, when she had not. Dodsworth learned the moral of the film – if you keep loving someone who doesn’t love you back, you can only get hurt. Fran never learns that.
Dodsworth is about how Sam, just retired from his automobile business, decides to run off to Europe to get the culture he never thought he could get at home. Fran feels that this is an opportunity to prove that she is young and won’t have to be weighed down by her aging husband. Before they even get there, though, all hell breaks loose in their little world. Fran obviously sees the trip as a way to break off from Sam, and she immediately starts a series of flings. While she goes off with a very dashing young Daivd Niven on the boat to England, Sam first meets Edith Cortright, played by Mary Astor. She’s an ex-pat who lives in Italy and when Sam is convinced he and Fran will divorce, he falls for her. The two are closer in age and seem to have more in common.
There cannot be enough said about the acting in this film. Walter Huston, who is probably more well-known today for his bit parts as a character actor later in his life, takes the chance to be a leading man and runs with it. Mary Astor shines in a perfect example of her pre-Maltese Falcon days when she was a leading lady. Ruth Chatterton is a little over-the-top sometimes, but I think she pulls off a fine performance as the (for lack of a better term) bitch of the picture. There’s also that creepy appearance of Maria Ouspenskaya, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her short, five-minute rejection of Fran’s plan to marry her son.
Along with Best Supporting Actress, Huston was nominated for Best Actor (losing the Paul Muni, who began his string of bio-pics as Louis Pasteur). Dodsworth was also nominated for Best Picture (it lost to the wonderful The Great Ziegfeld), Director, Sound – Recording and Writing – Screenplay. It did win a well-deserved Best Art Direction Oscar, though, considering how much work had to be put in to make a studio look like Paris, Naples and Vienna.
Considering all these awards and one of the best directors of the Golden Age at the helm, it is a shock that this is such an unknown film today. It might have to do with the fact that the MGM DVD is out of print or the lack of big-name stars. It could just be that it stands too close to reality or just that the title is (admittedly) a little bland. However, this past Saturday, TCM showed it as part of their Essentials programming. This is how I finally got to see it.
Dodsworth is a forgotten classic and one that if you are ever given the chance to see it, take it.