Academy Awards 1936 -
Best Interior Decoration (b&w)
Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) sells his automobile company at great profit. But his success has come at the expense his dutiful wife, Fran (Ruth Chatterton). She persuades him to take her to Europe on the Queen Mary. Sam sits and watches while Fran dances with handsome Cyde Lockert (David Niven). Fran wants to prove she is still young. Sam just wants to relax--he watches the night sky and talks to an attractive divorcée (Mary Astor). To this point DODSWORTH could be a romantic comedy. But it takes a different tack, becoming a penetrating examination of a troubled marriage.
As DODSWORTH begins, the viewer's sympathies are with Fran Dodsworth rather than her slightly stodgy husband. However, this gradually changes. Fran's main concern is holding on to her youth, while Sam tolerates her foibles because he really loves and trusts her. When he tires of Europe, Sam returns to Indiana. Disappointed that Fran is not with him, he believes she will soon follow. However, in a scene beautifully staged by director William Wyler, Sam ends up being wrong. Fran is with the suave Arnold Iselin (Paul Lukas) on the terrace of a villa. He makes her read a letter from Sam. Iselin's response is to set fire to the letter. As it burns, it is caught by a gust of wind. Followed by Wyler's camera, it swirls in the air before turning to ashes on the ground, along with Sam's hopes.
DODSWORTH is a beautifully achieved work. Chatterton gives a fine performance; Mary Astor is splendid--with a wonderful moment of joy when she unexpectedly sees Sam again; and Walter Huston, reprising his stage role, is natural, subtle, and moving.
Rags To Riches |
DODSWORTH opened on September 23, 1936 at the Rivoli Theater in New York.
DODSWORTH was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1990.
In 1929, the novel DODSWORTH was a bestseller. A year later its author, Sinclair Lewis, became the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. In spite of that, in 1932, when playwright Sidney Howard suggested to Samuel Goldwyn the novel DODSWORTH would make a great movie, the producer was uninterested. So Howard acquired the rights himself and adapted it for the stage--it was a hit. Now Goldwyn was interested. When Howard pointed out that the screen rights cost him eight times as much as they would have two years earlier, the classic Goldwyn reply was "I don't care. This way I buy a successful play. Before it was just a novel."
When producer Goldwyn bought the rights to DODSWORTH he also acquired lead actor Walter Huston and Sidney Howard, who had adapted it from Sinclair Lewis's novel. At first planning to ask Gregory La Cava (MY MAN GODFREY, STAGE DOOR) to direct, Goldwyn changed his mind after the critical reception of THESE THREE, which Wyler had just directed for him.
Ruth Chatterton was 43 when DODSWORTH was made, and like her character, she too was trying to hold on to her youth. She wanted to play Fran Dodsworth as a tough woman from the start. Wyler, like scriptwriter Sidney Howard, believed it was important to make the character sympathetic initially and that Fran's fear of aging would explain her later behavior. As a result of these differences, Chatterton and Wyler fought continually while the movie was being shot. Under these circumstances, it is surprising that Chatterton's performance is so good. It is perhaps less surprising that, after DODSWORTH, she appeared in only two more movies--both made in Britain.
During the filming of DODSWORTH, Mary Astor was involved in a messy custody battle with her second husband. He leaked what was purported to be her private diary to the press. The trial was suspended while filming was completed, and Astor kept away from reporters by living on the studio lot. Later, in her biography, she wrote, "I had achieved the reputation of being the greatest nympho-courtesan since Pompadour."
Actor John Payne, who was later to appear in such movies as KANSA CITY CONFIDENTIAL and SLIGHTLY SCARLETT, appears in DODSWORTH under the name John Howard Payne. This was his feature-film debut.
Goldwyn made contradictory statements about how successful DODSWORTH was. On one occasion, he said, "I lost my...shirt. I'm not saying it wasn't a fine picture. It was a great picture, but nobody wanted to see it. In droves"; while on another he claimed DODSWORTH was "one of the biggest hits I ever had. It made a fortune."