Turner Classic Movies has been running the William Wyler film Dodsworth for the past month. It's based on one of Sinclair Lewis' most popular novels. I assume it will now go into general rotation. I've seen it three times. I think it's that good.
Previously only two Wyler films interested me, The Best Years of Our Lives and The Letter. His other films never moved me. But now I see that the problem was mine not his. The power of the drama, the acuity of the social and psychological themes and the sheer beauty of scenes themselves make this for me a major film.
And was it ahead of its time. Walter Huston, always good but here great, plays Dodsworth, a wealthy automobile manufacturer who has just retired with his millions. His wife of twenty years, played with equal skill and range by Ruth Chetterton, admits she's "afraid of getting" old and wants to go to Europe. She is twenty years younger than her husband.
She likes Europe so much that she stays for a few extra months and sends her husband, who is content to stay in the midwestern town of Zenith, back home alone. She then proceeds to have two affairs with very "continental" men. One of whom asks her to divorce Dodsworth long distance so that he may marry her. In the meantime Mary Astor becomes Dodsworth's love interest. God she was gorgeous.
The writers clearly want us to identify with Dodsworth and we do. Huston and Wyler give him a simple goodness that we have to admire. And he is certainly indulgent of his wife. Even after seeing her through her affairs he loves her and wants her back.
But by the end I felt sorry for his wife, too. He was happy sitting in his home library in Zenith, playing golf and going to the same dinners and cafes the rest of his life. And she is younger and quite attractive and if she's foolish in some respects it's only because the mid-like crisis is not his but hers. Wyler emphasizes how much she fears getting old; and fears death.
I don't think I can oversell this movie. Most novelists complain that Hollywood films do them in. Sinclair Lewis had to be awfully proud of this one.
Sinclair Lewis (novel)
Sidney Howard (dramatised by)
23 September 1936 (USA) more
Drama / Romance more
A bittersweet tale of the increasing estrangement of a retired automobile tycoon and his wife. Increasingly... more
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Affair / Divorce / Europe / Grandparent / Industrialist more
Won Oscar. Another 2 wins & 6 nominations more
They don't make such adult films anymore. more
(Complete credited cast)
Walter Huston ... Sam Dodsworth
Ruth Chatterton ... Fran Dodsworth
Paul Lukas ... Arnold Iselin
Mary Astor ... Mrs. Edith Cortright
Kathryn Marlowe ... Emily Dodsworth McKee