Warner Archive Blu-ray Review: William Wyler’s ‘Dodsworth’

It took a long time, but we finally have a Blu-ray release of William Wyler’s Dodsworth, one of the best films of the 1930s. The first time I saw the movie was back in 2011, when it aired as part of TCM’s Essentials line-up. I had longed to own my own copy of the film on DVD, but the old MGM disc has been out of print for years and fetched a pretty penny online used. When Warner Bros. Home Video struck a distribution deal with The Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Family Trust, Dosworth was at the top of my list of films I wanted re-released. WBHV held off on it though, and for a good reason.

In 2019, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, The Film Archive and the Goldwyn estate completed a brand new restoration, with funding from The George Lucas Family Foundation. This meant WBHV and Warner Archive would finally have a perfect source for a Dodsworth home video release. And it was worth the wait. The 2020 Blu-ray disc is simply astonishing, with the final result looking far beyond what anyone could expect. Since there are no video extras on this dual-layer disc, the 101-minute film has plenty of room to breathe.

As for the film itself, it is one of Wyler’s best. Thanks to its scarcity on home video, it has flown under the radar of his best-known movies, but it highlights many of his talents. It is based on Sydney Howard’s 1934 play Dodsworth, which was, in turn, inspired by Sinclair Lewis’ 1929 novel of the same name.

Walter Huston stars as Sam Dosworth, with Ruth Chatterton as his wife Fran. It begins with Sam retiring from his small-town automobile business, which he just sold to a conglomerate, and planning to head to Europe for the culture he couldn’t find at home. Fran is his much-younger wife, and pines for the romance and adventure she couldn’t get with Sam. Their time overseas puts the marriage to the test and ultimately rips it apart. Through some incredible performances by the leads, as well as Mary Astor as the American widow Sam falls for, and Wyler’s creative direction, Dodsworth is far more accessible and engaging than other films based on plays of the era.

The only extra included on the disc is a 1937 radio dramatization from the Lux Radio Theater program. It features Huston and his wife Nan Sunderland in the lead roles. The extra is not listed on the back of the case.

Dodsworth might be 84 years old, but its exploration of a marriage at the end of its ropes is timeless. When one person runs from reality and another towards it, the relationship has to give, no matter how much it hurts. You can’t make a realistic movie like this today, simply because the talent it would take doesn’t exist.

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