Film Greats: William Wyler’s ‘Dodsworth’ (1936)

Edwin Pereyra

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Rarely do we see a film nowadays from Hollywood about middle aged characters actually played by middle aged actors with realistic storylines dealing with problems of this group of people and their disintegrating relationships. A film devoid of any teenage characters whose sole purpose at times is to draw them into a film only to ensure some financial success from the box office receipts of this demographic group.
Dodsworth from director William Wyler (Jezebel, Wuthering Heights, Ben-Hur is one of those films about grownups for grownups. The film knows what it wants to be and goes for it. It is a film that still resonates with today’s mature audiences because, among other things, of its honesty and reality based themes.
Based on a Sinclair Lewis novel, which was also adapted into a stage play, the film is about Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston), a successful businessman who had just sold his automobile company at the urging of his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton). Both go on an extended holiday in Europe. While Sam finds Europe to be boring, Fran sees it as a land of sophisticates quite different from the American mid-westerners she has been around with most of her life. Being a few years younger than Sam, she aspires to enjoy Europe for a while and be a part of its high society. As she attracts other men during this trip, it puts a strain and a serious challenge to their relationship and marriage as Sam seeks solace with another sympathetic woman (Mary Astor).
Dodsworth received seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Huston), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Maria Oupenskaya), Best Screenplay (Sidney Howard) and Best Sound. Its sole Oscar win went to Richard Day for Best Interior Decoration.
Walter Huston is very impressive here. He exudes a commanding presence whenever he is onscreen. He portrays Sam Dodsworth as an unwavering and gentle businessman, husband and family man with a quiet dignity. The New York Film Critics Circle Award named Huston “Best Actor” that year. At the same time, Ruth Chatterton brings depth to her character despite one that is primarily written as a selfish and vain person. We are able to see her frustrations at another level instead of just feeling anger and hatred towards her character and her motivations.
Dodsworth remains smart, sophisticated and absorbing now as it was 60 years ago. It’s stature as one of the greatest films of the 1930’s holds up through today due to its unsentimental approach, impeccable performances and intelligent writing.
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Film Greats – A continuing quick look at motion pictures that, in one way or another, have been called “great films” by some. Other Films In This Series: Jean-Luc Godard’s http://www.hometheaterforum.com/uub/Forum9/HTML/007615.html http://www.hometheaterforum.com/uub/Forum9/HTML/006466.html
 

SteveGon

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Edwin, I agree completely. Walter Huston was very good in Dodsworth. In fact, he's about the only thing I remember from the film as it's been so long since I've seen it. I'll have to check out the VHS copy from my local library again...
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[Edited last by SteveGon on October 24, 2001 at 01:02 AM]
 

Robert Crawford

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Steve,
"Dodsworth" is out on dvd which I have a copy of and it's getting released again in December. Edwin, great review for an equally great film!
Crawdaddy
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SteveGon

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Robert, thanks for the heads-up. I'll put the Dodsworth dvd on my to-buy list.

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My top ten movies that need to be on dvd:
1. Akira Kurosawa's Dreams 2. Freaks 3. Men With Guns 4. The Ninth Configuration 5. The Reflecting Skin 6. Santa Sangre 7. Treasure of the Sierra Madre 8. Voyager 9. White Heat 10. Wings of Desire
 

Edwin Pereyra

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Yes, Steve, make sure you watch the DVD release, which I'm sure would have the best presentation of this film.
~Edwin
 

Rain

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Does anyone know how the existing DVD looks? Should I get that one or wait for the MGM version coming out later this year?
Any thoughts?
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Rob Willey

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Edwin,
A worthy subject for a thread. Dodsworth is a really good film, although arguable if it's one of the greatest films of film's best decade.
I didn't really know Ruth Chatterton's work before seeing her in Dodsworth, but she's a real "find". She holds her own with two of my faves, Huston and Astor.
Recommended.
Rob
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Robert Crawford

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Does anyone know how the existing DVD looks? Should I get that one or wait for the MGM version coming out later this year?
Rain,
The first dvd release which I have looks pretty damn good for a 1936 film. HBO Home Video which is really Warner released this dvd while MGM is releasing the film again on dvd in December. The HBO dvd has English subtitles which MGM is known not to include in their dvd releases. Furthermore, the HBO release has the original mono along with DD1 and cast bios which I don't know if MGM will include in their release. If I had to guess I'll doubt that MGM will include those features. You'll be hard press to find a copy of the HBO dvd due to it being released back in 1998. Good Luck!
Crawdaddy
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Edwin Pereyra

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I'm not a stickler for video quality myself. There are only a few discs I wouldn't buy including Ran and Metropolis. As Robert has said, the HBO release of this disc is quite good and recommended to anyone's collection.
~Edwin
 

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