Dodsworth (1936)

“A man’s habits get pretty strong in 20 years.”

Synopsis:
A retired automobile magnate (Walter Huston) goes on a European tour with his wife (Ruth Chatterton), who is eager to “have a fling” and feel young again. After an embarrassing flirtation with a roue (David Niven), Chatterton falls for a playboy (Paul Lukas) and then a penniless baron (Gregory Gaye) — but will Huston wait patiently, or seek solace from a kind widow (Mary Astor)?

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Review:
William Wyler directed this adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’s 1929 satirical novel (turned into a play by Sidney Howard) about a middle-aged American couple struggling to reconcile their post-retirement life abroad. It’s notable for not sugar-coating the marital challenges faced by Huston and Chatterton, instead recognizing the compromises that are sometimes made — at least up to a certain point (as Huston finally declares to Chatterton, “Love has got to stop someplace short of suicide!”). The performances are strong across the board, with Huston nicely showcasing the sense of wild-eyed freedom he feels once given permission to explore his interests, and Chatterton instantly displaying a narcissistic need to be noticed and loved by men other than her husband. With that said, she’s not presented as a shrew, but rather as a complex woman deathly afraid of what aging implies. This is a depressing tale, but one told with such honesty that we can’t help staying engaged and eager to see how events fare.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Walter Huston as Arthur Dodsworth
  • Ruth Chatterton as Fran Dodsworth
  • Mary Astor as Edith
  • Rudolph Mate’s cinematography
  • Strong direction throughout by Wyler

Must See?
Yes, as a fine adaptation by a master director. Listed as a film with Historical importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book. Chosen in 1990 by the National Film Preservation Board to be preserved in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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