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Dodsworth (1936) Online

Dodsworth (1936) Online
Original Title :
Genre :
Movie / Drama / Romance
Year :
Directror :
William Wyler
Cast :
Walter Huston,Ruth Chatterton,Paul Lukas
Writer :
Sinclair Lewis,Sidney Howard
Type :
Time :
1h 41min
Rating :
Dodsworth (1936) Online

A bittersweet tale of the increasing estrangement of a retired automobile tycoon and his wife. Increasingly obsessed with maintaining an appearance of youth, she falls in with a crowd of frivolous socialites during their "second honeymoon" European vacation. He, in turn, meets a woman who is everything she is not: self-assured, self-confident, and able to take care of herself.
Complete credited cast:
Walter Huston Walter Huston - Sam Dodsworth
Ruth Chatterton Ruth Chatterton - Fran Dodsworth
Paul Lukas Paul Lukas - Arnold Iselin
Mary Astor Mary Astor - Edith Cortright
David Niven David Niven - Captain Lockert
Gregory Gaye Gregory Gaye - Kurt Von Obersdorf
Maria Ouspenskaya Maria Ouspenskaya - Baroness Von Obersdorf (as Mme. Maria Ouspenskaya)
Odette Myrtil Odette Myrtil - Renée de Penable
Spring Byington Spring Byington - Matey Pearson
Harlan Briggs Harlan Briggs - Tubby Pearson
Kathryn Marlowe Kathryn Marlowe - Emily Dodsworth McKee
John Payne John Payne - Harry McKee (as John Howard Payne)

William Wyler thought the characterization of Mrs. Dodsworth was too black and white and insisted on some subtleties to the performance. Ruth Chatterton vigorously disagreed with this interpretation and the two would often argue fiercely on the subject. At one point Chatterton slapped Wyler across the face and retreated to her dressing room. In her memoirs, Mary Astor observed that Chatterton's character "was that of a woman trying to hang onto her youth--which was exactly what Ruth herself was doing. It touched a nerve."

William Wyler spent a whole afternoon shooting the sequence where Fran (Ruth Chatterton) burns a letter from her husband; he wanted the letter to specifically blow gently along the terrace, stop for a moment, and then continue to flutter as the scene faded to black as a metaphor for Fran and Sam's failing marriage.

At the time of filming, Mary Astor was going through a very public and very scandalous divorce from her husband, who used Astor's diary to prove that she had been having an affair with playwright George S. Kaufman. With the press constantly stalking her, she sometimes slept on the set to avoid confrontation. Many people involved in the production sided with Astor throughout the ordeal, including William Wyler, Samuel Goldwyn and Ruth Chatterton, who appeared as a character witness on Astor's behalf.

This marks the first time under the Production Code that a man is seen to walk out of his marriage and not get punished for it.

Mary Astor wrote in her memoirs that Edith Cortright was her favorite role, also reflecting that she channeled her struggle of her public divorce into her role: "When I went into court and faced the bedlam . . . that would have broken me up completely, I kept the little pot boiling that was Edith Cortright."

Producer Samuel Goldwyn, director William Wyler and actors Walter Huston and Maria Ouspenskaya all received their first Academy Award nominations with this film.

MGM considered a remake in the mid-1950s with Gregory Peck in the title role, Elizabeth Taylor as the wife and Grace Kelly as Edith with Julius J. Epstein doing the adaptation. They were not able to schedule the three and plans were abandoned.

This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1990.

William Wyler and Ruth Chatterton fought bitterly almost daily on the interpretation of Fran. Chatterton felt she should be played entirely as a villainess, whereas Wyler found reasons to sympathize with the character. According to Mary Astor, the tension was increased by Chatterton's own desperation at her advancing age. At 43 she was far from an old woman but well past the age when actresses typically enjoyed continued audience appeal and their choice of roles. Once a big star on stage, and briefly one in films a few years earlier, her success was waning and, according to Wyler, she exhibited very "haughty" behavior on the set. She was self-conscious about her figure and her looks, insisting on daily facials to maintain a youthful glow. Her insecurities manifested themselves as hatred and fear toward Wyler and his multiple-take working method. At one point she reportedly slapped the director's face and locked herself in her dressing room.

Mary Astor enjoyed working with William Wyler, finding him to be "an inspirational director, tough and exacting but sensitive." She especially appreciated how he ended the film on a close-up of her, not strictly out of vanity but from the awareness that the audience would enjoy having the story end on the high note of Edith's radiance at seeing Sam return to her.

David Niven later said he was "bloody miserable" working with William Wyler, whom he described as a "Jekyll and Hyde" and "a sonofabitch to work with." Although conceding Wyler could be "kind, fun and cozy" off the set, Niven said "he became a fiend the moment his bottom touched down in his director's chair." Wyler was not terribly impressed with Niven's talent, either, later noting that he was little more than "a sort of playboy around town." However, the director thought that since Niven was essentially playing himself on screen, he was perfect for the part of the charming cad Captain Lockert.

One of the top 20 box office hits of its year.

Ruth Chatterton's final American film.

David Mamet, in his book "Bambi vs. Godzilla", cites this film as one of his favorites.

Although the film was shot entirely in the studio, William Wyler sent a camera crew to London, Paris, Vienna, Montreux and Naples for background shots that would be projected behind the sets to recreate the Dodsworths' European tour. Wyler knew many of the locales from personal travels and gave minutely detailed instructions about the kinds of shots he wanted, but many of them were rejected in the final cut in order to keep the film from feeling like a travelogue. Only those crucial to the story survived.

William Wyler and Walter Huston were friends who worked well together, especially since their ideas about screen acting perfectly meshed. "No acting ruses, no acting devices, just the convincing power that comes from complete understanding of a role," Wyler noted. He credited Huston's thousands of hours on stage in the role with making for a "letter-perfect" film performance.

In 1995, Milos Forman announced that he would be directing an Alfred Uhry-scripted remake with Harrison Ford in the title role after he completed Larry Flynt - Die nackte Wahrheit (1996)

The play opened on Broadway on 24 February 1934 and had 315 performances. Walter Huston, Harlan Briggs and Charles Halton reprised their stage roles in the film, but Halton's footage was cut from the final print. Also in the opening-night cast were Fay Bainter as Fran Dodsworth, Hal K. Dawson, Beatrice Maude (also in the film), Ivan Miller, Kent Smith, Ninetta Sunderland (Huston's real-life wife) and Frederick Worlock.

One of two films made in 1936 by William Wyler adapted from a successful stage play. The other was Infame Lügen (1936) which was an adaptation of Lillian Hellman's play "The Children's Hour".

Film debut of John Payne.

The Campbell Playhouse broadcast a radio adaptation starring Orson Welles as Samuel Dodsworth, Fay Bainter as Fran Dodsworth, and Nan Sunderland as Edith Cortright on November 26, 1939.

Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.

Became the joint first film to be nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards with Mein Mann Godfrey (1936).

Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.

"Lux Radio Theater" broadcast a 60 minute radio adaptation of the movie on October 4, 1937 with Walter Huston reprising his film role.

The original Broadway production opened at the Shubert Theater and ran for 147 performances.

Filming began after William Wyler spent Christmas with Walter Huston and his family.

"The Screen Guild Theater" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on February 1, 1943 with Walter Huston reprising his film role.

"Theater Guild on the Air" broadcast a 60 minute radio adaptation of the movie on October 6, 1946 with Walter Huston reprising his film role.

User reviews



"Dodsworth" has been on my short list of must-see films for decades, and I finally had my chance to see it last night. I'm still in awe. (Others have made cogent observations about the acting of the other principals in the cast, so I will confine my comments specifically to Walter Huston.) There are people who will complain that this film is "slow," that it is "boring," that "nothing ever happens in it." Too bad for them, because this is a master class in acting of the highest order.

It is difficult to pull off a film like "Dodsworth" without betraying its stage origins, but this one feels and moves like a movie, not a play. (Of course, its genesis is a lengthy Sinclair Lewis novel, but the contributions of the gifted Sidney Howard -- who adapted the novel for the stage and the screen -- cannot be overlooked.) Walter Huston, who also played Sam Dodsworth in the Broadway play, was that rarest of actors, equally adept at playing to the back row of the balcony and giving a quiet wink to another 20-foot-tall face on a movie screen.

Anyone can buff up and wield a sword or tumble from a parking garage after being shot eleven times. But it takes a truly gifted screen actor to make the mundane seem utterly real; to shade a line just so, to achieve perfect pitch with every gesture, every glance. Huston was just such an actor, who, if he is remembered at all today it as John Huston's father, or the "old guy" in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre." Too bad again, because Huston was one of the finest actors in the history of American movies. He was not a movie star, but he totally embodied every role he ever played, and never gave a poor performance.

The narrative of "Dodsworth" is mature, intelligently handled material. It is impeccably directed by William Wyler. No one has ever remade it, though remakes have been considered. There are directors working today who could handle "Dodsworth," but it really merits more sophisticated treatment than the extensive nudity and profusion of strong language that would inevitably be written into a new script. It's much better left alone, and it deserves a far larger audience than it has ever had in the 68 years since its release.


Dodsworth is one of the best dramas of the 1930s. Walter Huston stars as Dodsworth, a middle-aged auto tycoon who looks forward to retirement. His wife--Ruth Chatterton--is not quite ready for the rocking chair. They embark on a grad tour of Europe. From the start Chatterton falls for the cosmopolitan airs of Europe and the attentions of the debonair men. More and more she leaves Dodsaworth alone as she flits among the cafe society. By accident he runs into a lonely American widow (Mary Astor) living in Italy. As the husband and wife drift farther apart, he moves closer to Astor. Yes it sounds like soap opera, but the acting is so good and the characters so real you forget the plot mechanics.

Huston has one of his very best film roles as the floundering Dodsworth who needs an anchor. Chatterton is excellent as the foolish wife (this was her last film), and Astor is a wonder as the American widow. The three stars turn in towering performances.

The rest of the cast includes Maria Ouspenskaya and the old countess, Spring Byington and Harlan Briggs as the best friends, John Payne as the son in law, David Niven as a gigolo, Gregory Gaye as the suitor, Paul Lukas as Arnold, and Odette Myrtil as the social leach.

There was talk in the mid-90s that Harrison Ford would star in a new version of Dodsworth but he never followed through because he wanted to continue his "action" roles. Too bad. Ford has certain qualities that would have made him (or Warren Beatty) ideal for the part. But Ford and Beatty are too old now. Oddly only Huston and Ouspenskaya earned Oscar nominations. Hard to see how Chatterton and Astor got bypassed.

This is a great American film.


"Dodsworth" is a disarmingly honest and frank depiction of a failed marriage, based on the Sinclair Lewis novel. Its naturalistic acting and its refusal to make its characters anything less than full-bodied human beings make it feel way ahead of its time. It's never mentioned along with other classic films of the period--probably because it doesn't have an epic scope--but it should be.

Walter Huston gives an absolutely flawless performance in the title role. His type is so recognizable, even today: the successful American business man who values the simplest and most traditional of American values, and who comes across as provincial and crass to the rest of the world. Ruth Chatterton meets Huston's performance every step of the way as Dodsworth's wife, glad of the material comfort her husband can provide, but embarrassed by him and aware that he will prevent her from joining the world of high culture to which she wants to belong. It is to the movie's distinct credit that neither of these characters is either hero or villain. Dodsworth is crass and unsophisticated; yet at the same time he's honest and never misleads his wife into thinking he's something that he's not. Mrs. Dodsworth has a right to be bored by the kind of life Dodsworth is content with, but she might have thought of that before so readily accepting his financial success.

I don't really know for sure, but I have a feeling this movie might have made people very uncomfortable in 1936. I doubt married couples were encouraged to turn too critical an eye on their own marriages back then, and I suspect that more people than not decided to stick it out in unhappy marriages rather than violate a sense of social propriety. Before the days when people dated for a few years before getting married, many people probably learned about the kind of person they were marrying only after the wedding day. "Dodsworth" beautifully captures the sad, melancholy feeling of waking up one morning and realizing you're not married to the person you thought you were.

Grade: A


It is astonishing to think that this Sinclar Lewis film adaptation was made in 1936! Walter Huston is sensational as the retiring tycoon. He is married to Fran, played deliciously by Ruth Chatterton (a character who seems an early version of Meryl Streep's in "Death Becomes Her") Her fear of aging is beautifully drawn and embarrassing to witness. The rich American hicks in Europe are described with humor and compassion but above all with an uncanny understanding of the subject. I loved the structure of the phone calls from Vienna to Naples at a crucial moment in the protagonists future lives. Mary Astor is another standout in a performance of such modernity that one has to remind oneself that this was in fact shot in 1936. The director, William Wyler, was yet to give us some other milestones from "Jezabel" and "The Littlle Foxes" to "Roman Holiday", "Funny Girl" and "Ben Hur" For film lovers this is a must!


Some years ago, I read a short piece in TV Guide by the critic and screenwriter Jay Cocks, in which he listed ten 'great, underrated films'. One which I had never heard of before was Dodsworth.I trust Jays taste in films, so i decided to take a lot at it. I promptly saw it on Video and was enthralled.Once more, William Wyler reveals why he has to be ranked among the great Hollywood directors. Dodsworth is that rarity, a film for adult people. In addition, it boasts a literate script, fine acting by an superb cast, and an very fine design. One of the favorite themes of the fiction of Henry James,. the conflict between American innocence and European sophistication, is here explored with a concision and an empathy James only occasionally managed. In addition, the film is a profoundly moving love story. One can only wonder why this exquisite movie was not even nominated for the AFI list of great American films.


Dodsworth is one of those Hollywood treasures that the insiders and historians worship but that the general public knows nothing about. There are more famous classic films from the 1930's but not one is any better than Dodsworth. Dodsworth belongs in the class of Lost Horizon, Mutiny on the Bounty, Gone With the Wind, etc. as one of the greatest films of the thirties. It also deserves to be recognized as an old movie that plays well today. This movie does not seem nearly as dated as so many other 70 year old movies. Much of the credit goes to the great novel by Sinclair Lewis, but many great books have been turned into inferior films. The screenplay, direction, acting, photography are all outstanding. The cast is simply extraordinary, one of the best ensembles ever assembled. Just look at the number of soon to be major stars in the supporting cast. Watch it!
The Rollers of Vildar

The Rollers of Vildar

It's impossible to do justice to this work, which chronicles the complex breakdown of a long and successful marriage that cannot adjust to new challenges. Unlike many movies of the 1930s with high production values and a feel for old, glamorous Hollywood, the drama remains focused and disciplined. Aside from its subtle analysis of the end of a relationship, the movie does a superb job of contrasting the differences between the new, powerful go-getter culture of 20th-Century America and the more restrained, skeptical traditions of Old Europe. The movie in some ways represents a dialogue between these two cultures, which at time clash, most poignantly when an old Austrian baroness speaks frankly to the wife of an American industrialist. A great overlooked classic.
interactive man

interactive man

If you're tired of the actual Hollywood teenager productions, you have a chance to see some maturity watching "Dodsworth". The relationship of the Dodsworths are amazingly realistic, and the wonderful performances by Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton only improve the reality of the situation. He is amazing as a retired middle-aged industrialist and she is faultless as his futile, snob and frustrated wife. This film also got me some extra points because of Mary Astor, at the highest point of her beauty. It's masterly directed by William Wyler, and the cinematography is wonderful. One of the greatest films from the first decade of the sounded films.


It is hard to believe that this film is 64 years old. Walter Huston gives a performance of depth and understanding. He is matched by Mary Astor. The acting seems much more 'modern' than other films from that era, and the story will definitely hold comtemporary audiences. One of my choices for one of the greatest films of the 1930s.


The experience of watching movies has got to be one of the great original adventures of the 20th century. What luck when we come across a movie that we may have only slightly heard of, if at all, and then happen to bump into one evening - which changes your perspective on life or adds just that little bit more of enjoyment into a life spent thinking one has seen everything!

Such was my experience tonight with DODSWORTH. What an innocuous, if not, nondescript title for a movie which held so many delights within the walls of its celluloid chamber!

How could I have known that this silly title would open up new vistas for me? I am not saying this movie changed my life. But how unexpected to have found ONE MORE GEM amongst the thousands of movies that I have already known and loved! Walter Huston was a major surprise for me. I had seen him before. But never like this.

The same with Ruth Chatterton. The scenes with Mary Astor near the end are almost priceless. Talking about those scenes...one can only wonder how such simple dialog could elicit so many feelings from us? I say that Sinclair Lewis had something to do with its success.

But let's not leave out the master - William Wyler!


Sinclair Lewis's novel of American morals and mores Dodsworth was first adapted for the stage by Sidney Howard. It provided Walter Huston with one of his best known parts, he appeared in the play on Broadway for 315 performances for the 1934-35 season. Samuel Goldwyn was smart enough to both buy the play and make sure to sign Walter Huston to repeat his performance for the film. At least his performance in this role is preserved unlike Knickerbocker Holiday.

The plot concerns Samuel Dodsworth, successful automobile industrialist who sells out his firm to a conglomerate like General Motors and at 50 decides to get a bit more out of life, starting with a trip to Europe with wife Ruth Chatterton. Huston's a hick tourist and he knows it, so to him it's see the sights and get back home to his daughter Kathryn Marlowe and her husband John Payne who are planning to put him into the grandfather business.

But the thought of being a grandmother frightens the dickens out of Chatterton. And when she hits Europe you can hear the refrain of that song of the returning dough-boys, How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down On The Farm After They've Seen Paree. Their middle America town of Zenith, the location of so many Sinclair Lewis stories just ain't good enough for her any more.

She goes through a succession of men, David Niven, Paul Lukas, and Gregory Gaye who flatter her vanity with affairs. She's ready to divorce Huston for Gaye once she can get clearance from his formidable mother Maria Ouspenskaya. In the meantime Huston's found a widow in Mary Astor who likes him just as he is.

For the usually rosy cinema of 1936 Dodsworth is a remarkably mature and sophisticated story given its time. The film received several Academy Award nominations and won for Best Art&Set Direction, but strangely enough Ruth Chatterton was overlooked for Best Actress. I was more impressed with her performance than Huston's and he was at the top of his game.

Dodsworth was up for Best Picture, Best Actor for Walter Huston, Best Supporting Actress for Maria Ouspenskaya, Best Director for William Wyler and Best Screenplay Adaption by Sidney Howard. Goldwyn was smart enough to get Howard to adapt his own work for the screen.

After 71 years the film holds up as well as in 1936 and will be enjoyed by today's audience just as much as in 1936.


We've all done it, looked at our reflection in the shining surface of a new car. I can still remember seeing myself and making funny faces as I leaned into the chrome bumpers on my father's car as I polished it as a little boy. But those reflections and those cars grow old I don't need to do anything funny to make my nose look large or my face look funny anymore. That car has rotted past rust by now. And this movie is a study in aging and our reaction to it.

Mr. Dodsworth is a solid citizen, an okay, straight-arrow kind of man who isn't an angel and isn't a devil, just a plain good man with his strengths and failures. He has pulled himself up by his bootstraps and done better than most, building a powerful automobile manufacturing business and a strong family and bonds with friends. Upon retirement he listens to his wife who has never been satisfied in their little home town but wants to go to Europe where she visited briefly and which she now considers her rightful place.

The movie is the story of this fickle, foolish woman trying to flee inevitable age by trying to be what she is not while her husband supports her time and again with the kind of faithfulness born of his own needs and habits as much as old-fashioned morality.

Ironically, when his opportunity comes to find youth and romance again, you long for him to take it while you've been crying for the wife to wake up through the entire film. It is that balance between running from old age, embracing the accomplishments of a lifetime, and finding youth in love no matter what your chronological age, that drives the picture.

You know a great film when you lose yourself in it and start thinking about your own issues. What have you accomplished in life? What is awaiting you? What are you living for, what is worth dying for, and what would you do if you could, even at this point...and why aren't you doing it now? You will find yourself asking and struggling with all of these issues in the course of this film. You will see your own reflection in the shining surface, a mirror to examine an aging face, or a window, to examine the world.

And speaking of shining things, this cast is made up of some of the greatest names to ever work in film. This film shows why. Even across the decades, even across faded black and white, their voices, their expressions, still gleam. And in their smiles and tears you will be able to see what is important about the life you've lived, the life you could have lived, and the life and love you can still find, if you want it.


We're taught to "take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth." [Desiderata.] While most people allow maturation to occur naturally and be at peace with their physical evolvement, some do not.

Like Sinclair Lewis' heroine, people who doggedly resist change may end up disappointed and bitter. Such resistance is the basis for this perceptive adult drama on marital strife.

Ruth Chatterton is ideally cast, looking young while obviously no longer in her early thirties. Her frivolous banter provides a dramatic clash with Walter Hutson's aging hero.

While I find "Dodsworth" strangely depressing, it's a personal reaction, for this is a very well conceived and produced film, securely directed by William Wyler, and solidly scripted by Sidney Howard.

Mary Astor shows warmth as "the other woman" and Spring Byington offers an emotional balance to the proceedings. With excellent cinematography and art direction, "Dodsworth" remains a telling adult drama of the dangers which may transpire by not surrendering youthful matters to advancing years.


This was Ruth Chatterton's finest performance and proof that there wasn't a genre she couldn't do superbly. First she conquered Broadway, then in the early days of sound she was bought to Hollywood where she starred in a couple of sparkling comedies before finding popularity in sudsy mother love films such as "Sarah and Son" and "Anybody's Woman" etc. She then starred in "Female" (1933) about a woman in a man's world - also "The Rich are Always With Us" put her in a contemporary setting. Who would have thought that her best remembered role, (and according to Mary Astor a part she loathed) would be as vain, frivolous, trying to hold on to vanishing youth Fran - her least typical role. It did not have the makings of "hot" box office - it dealt with marital problems associated with middle age, but it was made with taste and integrity and excellent work from the three principals.

Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston), general manager and founder of Dodsworth Motors in Zenith City, is retiring. He has many regrets but has bowed under the pressure of his wife's demands. She wants to see the world and experience life - she feels she has been a perfect wife, mother and hostess for too many years. They take a cruise to Europe and at first their small town origins (or "hickness" as Sam says) shines through - dressing too formally for dinner etc, but they find they have different interests. Fran fits straight into the ship's social life, Sam wants to learn how to enjoy leisure.

One night, on deck, Sam meets Edith (Mary Astor) an American divorcée expat living in Italy. He finds her a sympathetic and intelligent woman who understands his dreams. Fran is in the middle of a shipboard romance with Captain Lockhart (David Niven) - he wants to take it further but Fran is confused about her emotions. She then demands to go to Paris - she feels she has made a fool of herself about the British Captain and can't face England. While in Paris Sam becomes reacquainted with Edith. She meets Fran and tries to advise her against her friend- ship with financier, Arnold Iselin (Paul Lukas), her next conquest.

"You're simply rushing at old age Sam and I'm not ready for that yet"!!! Sam decides to go back to Zenith - Fran has already signed a lease to a chalet in Switzerland (she has neglected to tell Sam) but back home Sam finds it hard to function without Fran. The cable he sends her asking her to return home is answered in the negative. He decides to have Iselin tailed and goes to France for a showdown. Although Fran begs his forgiveness, she cannot reconcile herself to growing old. They become grandparents but Fran refuses to accept it - after all she has told her European friends that she is 35!!!!

This is an extraordinary film about aging and trying to cling onto lost youth. Ruth Chatterton is amazing as the dizzy, shallow and ultimately tragic Fran. Walter Huston is absolutely flawless as Sam Dodsworth and Mary Astor brings tranquility and dignity to her role as the understanding Edith. John Payne is also in the cast as Sam's son-in-law Harry McKee.

Highly, Highly Recommended.


This movie deserves a broader audience, for its originality and its superior value as entertainment. Written with great care and sensitivity, it chronicles the growing estrangement between a long-married American couple, who embark on a European tour as a sort of reward for their success and an attempt to begin life anew. This plan goes unpredictably awry, as husband and wife find in the Old World very different lives awaiting them. Walter Huston gives a tremendous performance as the industrialist everyman whose affability and boyish enthusiasm seem to know no bounds. He is grumpy and honest and amusing, and yet his character comes across as a very real human being. It's a very endearing performance, with moments of depth, sensitivity and darkness not found much anywhere, in any film drama. Ruth Chatterton is remarkable as well. She turns the thankless role of the shallow and vain aging wife into a tour de force. Her flirtatiousness has a tinge of desperation, and her social pretensions are both funny and pathetic. This is a complex role, as difficult in its way as Hustons, and Chatterton brings a remarkable force to it. She may be crass and unforgivable, but she's unforgettable, as well. This is one of most complete successes of William Wyler's career, and also that rarest of Hollywood specimens: a film for grownups. Not to be missed.


DODSWORTH (United Artists, 1936), directed by William Wyler, stars Walter Huston (1884-1950) in what is rightfully acclaimed to be his best screen performance in a motion picture career that spanned from 1929 until his death in 1950. Recreating the role he originated on Broadway in 1934, and based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis, this Samuel Goldwyn production is a perfectly transferred masterpiece.

The story revolves around Samuel Dodsworth (Walter Huston), a millionaire industrialist of Zenith, Ohio, president and founder of Dodsworth Motor Company, who, after twenty years of building up his automobile establishment, sells it over to Union Motors, and leaves the factory with fond memories of hard work behind him. Now retired, he finds that he must succumb to his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), whose main goal is to enjoy life starting with an extensive six month European vacation from London to Paris. While on their continental tour on the Queen Mary, Sam excites himself by seeing the world for the first time while his wife, yearning for a more sophisticated existence, tries to recapture her youth by winning admiration with younger or sophisticated men: Captain Clyde Lockert (David Niven), and Arnold Iselin (Paul Lukas), a suave international banker, each becoming short-lived affairs. As Fran entertains herself without Sam, Sam finds good company with Edith Cortright (Mary Astor) a American divorcée traveling alone. What was originally intended to be a sort of second honeymoon for this middle-aged couple, Sam and Fran find that, after years of marriage, they have become strangers, drifting apart. Fran becomes even more bitter when she learns that her now grown married daughter (Kathryn Marlowe) is expecting a child, making Fran to realize that she is to become a grandmother. Still deeply in love with Fran, Sam is unwilling to profess to himself that she is a selfish woman trying to hold on to her youth but reluctantly consents to Fran's request to get a divorce. Traveling around the world alone, Sam reacquaints himself with Edith Cortright. As for Fran, she finds love with the impoverished Kurt Von Obersdorf (Gregory Gaye), with whom she plans to marry. After meeting Kurt's aristocratic but strong-willed mother (Maria Ouspenskaya), who is totally against this marriage, Fran becomes mortified when she's asked, "Have you ever thought what it would be like to be the old wife of a young husband?" As for Sam, his life has become a renewed experience with Edith at her Italian villa until Fran informs him she wants to come back into his life again.

Walter Huston, more an actor than star, makes a perfect Dodsworth. He even delivers the film's most memorable line, "Love has to stop someplace short of suicide." Ruth Chatterton, a capable actress whose career by then was then on the wane, gives one of her best on-screen performances, in fact, her last great performance ever recorded on film. Her classic moment is telling her husband, Sam, "You're rushing at old age. I'm not ready for that yet!" Sadly, many of her previous screen efforts are overlooked and forgotten today. Years before cable television dominated the airwaves, DODSWORTH appeared to be the only Ruth Chatterton movie in circulation on commercial or late night television. While Fay Bainter, who co-starred opposite Huston in the stage version of DODSWORTH, would have been equally excellent in the role of Fran, Chatterton's performance nearly dominates without taking away from Huston's performance. At times she could become annoying, but that's the essence to her character.

Nominated for eight Academy Awards, Huston did get recognized for his performance as Best Actor as did the movie for Best Picture. Curiously, Ruth Chatterton performance was overlooked by the judges of the academy. What's even more ironic is that Maria Ouspenskaya, making her movie debut, in a performance that takes up no more than five minutes, earned an award for Best Supporting Actress, the nomination that should have been offered to Mary Astor, who not only has more screen time, but is more essential to the story. Aside from that, Astor, who was playing a woman some years older than her true age, is strikingly beautiful and shares the film's now many classic scenes, including the one where she looks eye to eye at Fran (who claims to be 35), and telling her, "Don't." Her one word says it all. What also makes the movie succeed, even after all these years, is the frankness and very adult-minded theme dealing with realities of mid-life crisis. Next to Paramount's MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937), DODSWORTH is the only known major motion picture of that time to bring out the realities of old age openly and honestly. The Alfred Newman underscoring which sets the mood and dramatic appeal is also an added plus as well as part of the Samuel Goldwyn trademark.

Supporting players include Spring Byington, Odette Myrtil, and John Payne, billed as John Howard Payne, making his movie debut, as Harry, Emily Dodsworth's husband.

DODSWORTH became one of many Samuel Goldwyn features to be distributed to video cassette. Aside from its many revivals on commercial television since the 1970s, DODSWORTH did enjoy frequent showings on cable television's American Movie Classics in 1993, and more than a decade later, premiered March 1, 2004, on Turner Classic Movies.

DODSWORTH, winner of one Academy Award, for which best art direction by Richard Day, is the type of movie once seen, it's hard to forget, and improves itself with repeated viewing. Producer Samuel Goldwyn accomplished in transporting a stage play into a cinematic achievement. Not once during its presentation did DODSWORTH have the appearance of a filmed stage play. In spite that DODSWORTH in not becoming as better known as it deserves to be, it still ranks one of the finest and most adult stories ever to be produced in the 1930s. Huston, Chatterton and Astor, all deliver excellent performances under William Wyler's superb direction. (****)


This is truly a remarkable movie.

It is staged beautifully. Acted superbly. And the directing, shooting and cutting is nearly flawless.

Certain scenes stay with me most vividly...

  • Mary Astor warning Ruth Chatterton off of Paul Lucas with nothing more than a brief line and a quick look.

  • Huston and Chatterton undressing while their marriage starts to crumble.

  • Huston getting the wire from Europe, just after being so much of a blowhard with his family.

  • Walter Huston connecting with Mary Astor in Italy.

It is a movie that could not, would not be made today. There is no violence, no overt sex. It is, as other posters have noted, an adult movie, made for the sensibilities of adults.

And Mary Astor is just radiant and beautiful throughout...



Having known Huston as the ornery prospector in The Treasure of Sierra Madre, seeing him here as a straight-speaking businessman is a revelation. All of the performances here are honest--I even had sympathy for the Ruth Chatterton character.

The movie demands your attention as much of the feelings and intents of the characters are shown in the lowering of eyelids, the hand gently brushed or the defeated posture of a formerly powerful tycoon. So watch it in a quiet setting with the phone turned off and a "do not disturb" sign on your door.

TCM showed this as an "Essential," and I hope they show it again soon.


Simply outstanding. An adult, intelligent film which is not to be missed. Walter Huston is magnificent as the title character, a man who sees his carefully crafted life slipping away from him. As the vain, selfish Fran Dodsworth, Ruth Chatterton gives the best performance of her career. And Mary Astor--one of the best actresses ever to grace the screen--is both moving and beautiful as the warm divorcee who falls in love with Huston. Superbly directed by William Wyler. A truly great film.


I don't know how to review this movie, because there's no one aspect I can comment on without looking like I'm singling them out over the others. Every part of this movie adds up to something so much greater than the sum of its parts. Ultimately, I suppose the credit goes to the director, William Wyler, though in 1936 I'm not sure he would have had the same kind of control a director can have now with casting a movie, deciding on a screenwriter, crew, and that sort of thing. But it all comes together for something so perfectly conceived, that I can't really just mention the story, or the performances by Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton; the writing, the cinematography, or set design.

A description of the movie or even the type of film or genre it's in wouldn't do it justice in the way that I could at least describe some of my other favorite movies. It does everything right-it's so sophisticated, sensitive, mature, in dealing with the marriage of a middle aged couple going on their first vacation in twenty years together.

Minor spoiler-it deals with so much, but if you were to describe the story, it's about how Dodsworth (Walter Huston) and his wife, Fran (Ruth Chatterton) leave America and really try to enjoy themselves and each other for once. But Fran is insecure about her age and her older husband, and this insecurity begins to push her away from him and towards, well, not necessarily even other men, but away from anyone.

And yet, that doesn't come close to describing what this movie is really like or what it's about. It's every moment that's played so sensitively. It's got lots of emotion, but it's not sentimental. It's got a ruthless efficiency in building each scene upon the last, clearly giving each character different motivations and showing how their relationships change.

I haven't seen this movie show up in many discussions or top lists, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't affect anything about the movie, whether it's under seen or under respected. TCM showed it one evening as one of their Essentials, which gave me some exposure to it. Then I read David Mamet's book, Bambi vs. Godzilla, which keeps referring to Dodsworth. In it, he says that it's one of a few perfect movies. So I finally bought the DVD and watched it in earnest, and it was a singular experience.

For all the words like "mature" and "sensitive" or "grown up" that get used to describe it because of just how realistically it shows the dynamic of a marriage that is unraveling, those don't really describe what the movie is about. Yes, it is all of those things, and it is refreshingly realistic and attentive to the details of the relationships in it. More than most movies, and perhaps surprisingly so for any movie of its period. Or today.

Dodsworth is more than those things because it's like an event that transcends movies. This isn't really even a review. I just feel like someone has to add, for anyone curious, what an incredible experience this is. It's a jewel of a movie. Whenever I see a movie like this, and see how most people regard movies today and see them mostly on their opening weekends (not to be elitist, because there's a lot of reasons for that, and I'm not using my interest in movies to leverage myself as having better taste-and I know people would love this movie if they saw it), I feel like I've found this secret. A movie like this is subversive to me, and that may be peculiar because of how much I love movies and want to make them, but I feel like it's an alternative to a life of working a regular or corporate job and having what I would (though I'm overstating it for lack of better words) call a mundane life.

Movies in general, and especially singular movies like Dodsworth, are like secrets to me of how incredible a single experience can be. I have been thinking about it constantly since I saw it, and whenever I see a movie that even approaches it's greatness, my mood is lifted, my problems seem to go away, and a movie like this can seem like all I need or care about, because it's like an experience in another dimension. And it's so quotable-the dialogue comes so densely in pace and meaning, and it's got lines that will stun you.

To borrow a line from the movie, if you watch it, you may become fascinated by it.


While the romance genre may first call to mind the wild and passionate embraces of young lovers, it is usually the more tentative, less glamorous love stories that are the most effective. Dodsworth belongs to a tradition of simple yet deeply poignant romances that includes Brief Encounter, The African Queen and Remains of the Day. Thanks to some great acting performances under the guidance of William Wyler it is one of the best in the field.

This is Wyler's first truly excellent picture, in which his unique approach seems to have fully matured. Wyler famously (or perhaps not so famously) directed more Oscar-nominated acting performances than anyone else. It wasn't reportedly through great coaching, although his demand for repeated takes surely helped. What Wyler seems to have understood better than anyone else is that a performance is made up of different components - vocal delivery, facial expression, physical presence and so forth - and part of a director's job is to decide which of these to capture at any given moment. For Wyler, getting the right angle on the action was paramount even if it meant violating cinematic convention. Dodsworth is brimming with examples of this.

Take the opening scene, where we first meet Sam Dodsworth. As the camera tracks in Walter Huston has his back to us - we know from the context that this is an emotional time for him, but we are not shown his face. This stops the moment from seeming forced, and allows the emergence of the character to happen gradually. Huston communicates his feelings through posture alone. Wyler then shows him leaving via the most tentative and indirect method possible - a few lines of dialogue offscreen, after which we see his shadow cross the newspaper headline. It is an incredibly tender and respectful introduction to the character, and pays off as his story continues. Throughout the picture the camera tends to be kept at a distance, which emphasises that bittersweet sense of loneliness and also gives those intense facial close-ups at the end (the only ones in the whole picture) all the more impact.

Sometimes Wyler's method of showing (or not showing) a facet of a performance could be highly elaborate. In a key scene between Ruth Chatterton and Gregory Gaye, he needs to have Chatterton in the foreground and Gaye in the background, but it is Gaye's expression that we need to focus on. Wyler solves the problem by placing a lampshade in the foreground which actually obscures Chatterton's head, whilst at the same time framing Gaye. Later in the same scene he shows Gaye (in the foreground this time) watching Chatterton walk away offscreen, although she is reflected in the mirror behind him. Unlike the swooping camera moves or bewildering close-ups that some directors favour, these deceptively simple tactics are rarely distracting because they allow us to become totally absorbed in the performances and the scene.

And what performances... This was probably Walter Huston's career best. What's remarkable is that on paper Sam Dodsworth is not an entirely sympathetic character - shouting at his daughter, sending a spy out after his wife - but as played by Huston he is amazingly likable, and audience members will genuinely care about what happens to him. The other Oscar nominee was Maria Ouspenskaya. Her performance is expressive and certainly memorable so I can see why it got the nod, but Ruth Chatterton and Mary Astor would have been more worthy nominees for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively. It's also somewhat unfortunate that Ouspenskaya's performance distracts us from Gregroy Gaye, who hovers in the background doing what is probably the best bit of emotional acting of his career.

Also worthy of special mention is Alfred Newman's musical score. Normally a highly emotive score like this weakens a dramatic picture - music shouldn't be there to tell the audience how to feel - but in this case the melody is so beautiful and so perfectly captures the tone that it doesn't matter. The letter burning scene also makes great use of diagetic music, which is rather rare for this period. Again I'm surprised Newman didn't get an Oscar nomination, but perhaps the score was judged too sparse and simple for that.

For such gems as Dodsworth, we have to thank directors who had no ego, and no agenda other than to get the most out of a screenplay. This is one of the most mature and deeply affecting dramas of its era, and still has great resonance today.
Mustard Forgotten

Mustard Forgotten

Sinclair Lewis story about how time affects a long-term marriage comes to the screen with still-relevant talk weighing the issues behind a union which doesn't have the same spark as before. Retired, wealthy American businessman and his wife finally take that trip to Europe they've been dreaming about--but, on the ship going over to England, the wife finds that men still find her desirable in a way that her older husband perhaps takes for granted. Worse, their daughter has just made them grandparents for the first time, something the Mrs. doesn't want to share with anyone for fear of being out of her league with the flirtatious men in her path. William Wyler directs with a knowing eye and ear, and leads Walter Huston (Oscar-nominated) and Ruth Chatterton click immediately with these (not always likable) characters. Huston racks his spirit trying to come up with ways of entertaining--and keeping a hold on--his selfish spouse, unable to reconcile the fact that maybe she's just a fixture in his life, no longer a great love. Excellent support from Mary Astor, an extremely young David Niven (as a shipboard gigolo), and Maria Ouspenskaya (also Oscar-nominated) adds to the immense pleasure of watching this classic drama. A knockout. ***1/2 from ****


A perceptive film about a middle-aged marriage. Sam Dodsworth, a thoughtful but rigid man, is married to Fran, a younger woman terrified of growing old. When their daughter marries, they go to Europe where Fran has an affair. Sam goes back to the US alone and waits for his wife to come back. He complains to his family about the fact that she's not there to put out his whiskey and soda every night. Is it any wonder his wife wants to stay in Europe and hang around with playboys? Finally, Sam realizes the marriage is over and finds himself stuck in Europe waiting for the divorce to come through. He meets the bohemian Mrs. Cartwright (wonderfully played by Mary Astor), moves into her villa and falls in love. Finally, Sam has the capacity to grow and change. His wife did him a huge favor by breaking up the marriage. But after Fran is dumped by a young German aristocrat whose mother disapproves of their engagement, Fran is the one who wants to go back to the old routines. "It's not fair!" she cries when her fiancée rejects her, and she's right. There's a double-standard for women. Sam reluctantly books tickets on an ocean liner to take Fran back to America; but after being with Edith, he finally sees Fran for the childish and superficial person she is and he hops off the boat. "You're not going back to that washed-up expatriate?" cries Fran, as Sam is now the one to do the ditching. Edith, moping in her gorgeous Italian villa, looks out to see Sam sailing into the bay. Sam, Fran and Edith's points of view are all presented sympathetically in this film. There are no villains and that's what makes this film truly adult.


Walter Huston (as Sam Dodsworth) and Ruth Chatterton (as his wife, Fran) are beginning their wedded "golden years" by taking a trip to Europe, as their daughter begins her own marriage. It's fairly obvious, early on, that Mr. Dodsworth loves Mrs. Dodsworth; and, probably, he feels the European trip will enable the married couple to renew their relationship - and grow closer, before growing old, together. It is also very clear, early on, that Mrs. Dodsworth is not "on board"; in fact, her behavior is startlingly selfish and destructive.

Mr. Huston and Ms. Chatterton perform very well as the Dodsworths. "Dodsworth" is a film to watch for performances, and they are very effective. Their characterizations are full enough for viewers to get an ever clearer picture of the Dodsworth marriage, as the film progresses. Chatterton, of course, participates in the unraveling, while Huston works for preserving of their marriage.

Fran Dodsworth is a complicated part; and, it is certainly a most unflattering choice of role for an actress in the 1930s - this is probably a courageous role for Ruth Chatterton to accept, for the time. Of the supporting players, Mary Astor stands out as Mr. Huston's potential "other woman" - the scene where Chatterton and Ms. Astor meet should not be missed; watch the two actress' faces and listen to the tone of their voices, for an extremely well-acted scene. William Wyler expertly directed the drama.

********* Dodsworth (9/23/36) William Wyler ~ Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Mary Astor, David Niven