Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dodsworth

Turner Classic Movies frequently runs this film so keep an eye out for it. William Wyler's Dodsworth. 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.

5 comments:

Richard S. Wheeler said...

Mary Astor was one of the loveliest women ever to appear on the screen. She died not long ago, in 1987. On the IMDB there are some photos of her in Dodsworth. I see what you mean.

Mark Murphy said...

I belong to a local "cinephile" group that screens old movies at a local restaurant. Film buffs and other folks who aren't particularly film buffs but are looking for a pleasant night out come to the restaurant, have dinner and watch the films. When the lights come back on they usually applaud and head for the parking lot.

Last year we showed "Dodsworth," which I'd seen a number of times on TV. After the lights came back on, the audience just sat there for a while, not applauding, but stunned and, I think, awed. Someone compared the film's intensity to that of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" I don't know that I'd go that far (I'd much rather watch "Dodsworth"), but I do think it says a lot that a film made in the mid-'30s can still pack such a wallop with a live audience.

Yvette said...

I love this movie, Ed, thank you for featuring it today. I talked about it to on my blog a while back, but you really got to the heart of it.

Such a fabulous film and yet so many have never seen it. After watching this many times over the years, I finally read the book last year and loved that as well.

Now I see what wonderful adaptation Wyler & co. made of the book. Yes, I hope that Lewis was proud of it.

It's also one of the few movies in which Mary Astor comes across as likable - at least to me. I love the life her character's made for herself in Italy - at least the outer trimmings of it.

The ending always leaves me smiling but in a sad kind of way.

Ron Scheer said...

I've only watched clips of this movie; now you've got me wanting to watch it from beginning to end. I'm wondering how Wyler was able to treat the subject fairly given the requirements of the Code. I'm also wondering how much the film departs from the book, which I've never read. I think I stopped with MAIN STREET.

Ed Gorman said...

Well for all the implicit sex it's really about the nature of mature love. I suppose even a hairy-palmed peeping tom like Breen must have recognized that. I don't like all of Lewis' novels but this and Babbit are certainly good ones.