Dodsworth (film)

Dodsworth is a 1936 American drama film directed by William Wyler, and starring Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Paul Lukas, and Mary Astor. Sidney Howard based the screenplay on his 1934 stage adaptation of the 1929 novel of the same name by Sinclair Lewis. Huston reprised his stage role.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam Wyler
Produced bySamuel Goldwyn
Merritt Hulburd
Written bySidney Howard
Based onDodsworth 1934 play
by Sidney Howard
Dodsworth 1929 novel
by Sinclair Lewis
StarringWalter Huston
Ruth Chatterton
Paul Lukas
Mary Astor
David Niven
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyRudolph Maté
Edited byDaniel Mandell
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • September 23, 1936 (1936-09-23)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish (primarily), German, Italian
Box office$1.6 million[1][2]

The center of the film is a study of a marriage in crisis. Recently retired auto magnate Samuel Dodsworth and his narcissistic wife Fran, while on a grand European tour, discover that they want very different things out of life, straining their marriage.

The film was critically praised and nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Huston, and Best Director for Wyler (the first of his record twelve nominations in that category), and won for Best Art Direction. Dodsworth was nominated for AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies in 1997[3] and 2007.[4]


In the Midwestern town of Zenith, Samuel "Sam" Dodsworth (Walter Huston) is a successful, self-made man: the president of Dodsworth Motors, which he founded 20 years before. Then he sells the company to retire. Although Tubby Pearson, Sam's banker and friend, warns him that men like them are only happy when they are working, Sam has no plans beyond an extended trip to Europe with his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), who feels trapped by their dull small-town social life.

While travelling on the RMS Queen Mary to England, Sam meets Edith Cortright (Mary Astor), an American divorcee now living in Italy, who is sympathetic to his eagerness to expand his horizons and learn new things. Meanwhile, Fran indulges in a light flirtation with a handsome Englishman (David Niven); but when he suggests it become more serious, she hastily retreats and asks Sam not to spend time in England as planned, but go on directly to Paris.

Once there, Fran begins to view herself as a sophisticated world traveler and tries to develop a high-class social life, also pretending to be much younger than she is. Sam says that people who would socialize with hicks like either of them are not really high-class, but she sees him as increasingly boring and unimaginative; he only wants to see the usual tourist sights and visit car factories. She becomes infatuated with cultured playboy Arnold Iselin (Paul Lukas), who invites her to Montreux and later Biarritz. She suggests Sam return home and allow her to spend the summer in Europe; feeling rather out of place in the urbane Old World, he consents.

Sam is happily welcomed by his old friends, as well as his daughter (Kathryn Marlowe) and new son-in-law (John Payne), who have moved into his and Fran's mansion. Before long, though, Sam realizes that life back home has left him behind—and he is tormented by the idea that Fran might have, as well. He has a Dodsworth manager in Europe confirm that she is in fact seeing Iselin, and returns to Europe immediately on the RMS Aquitania to put a stop to it. Fran tries to deny the affair, but Iselin confirms everything. She breaks down and begs for forgiveness. He still loves her and agrees to patch up their marriage.

However, it is soon evident that they have grown far apart. In Vienna, news of the birth of their first grandchild arrives; although initially excited, Fran is displeased with the idea of being a grandmother. She eventually informs Sam that she wants a divorce, especially after the poor, but charming, young Baron Kurt von Obersdorf (Gregory Gaye) tells her he would marry her if she were free. Sam agrees.

Sightseeing aimlessly throughout the Continent while the divorce is being arranged, Sam encounters Edith by chance in an American Express office in Naples. She invites him to stay at her peaceful, charming Italian villa. The two rapidly fall in love. Sam feels so rejuvenated that he wants to start a new business: an airline connecting Moscow and Seattle via Siberia. He asks Edith to marry him and fly with him to Samarkand and other exotic locales on his new venture. She gladly accepts.

Meanwhile, Fran's idyllic plans are shattered when Kurt's mother (Maria Ouspenskaya) rejects his request to marry Fran. In addition to divorce being against their religion, she tells Fran that Kurt must have children to carry on the family line, and Fran would be an "old wife of a young husband". Kurt asks Fran to postpone their wedding until he can get his mother's approval; but Fran sees that it is hopeless, and calls off the divorce.

Feeling a duty to Fran, Sam reluctantly decides to sail home with her on the SS Rex, leaving Edith. However, after only a short time in Fran's now critical and demanding company, Sam realizes their marriage is irrevocably over. "Love has to stop somewhere short of suicide", he tells her. At the last moment, he gets off the ship to rejoin Edith.

Principal players


Walter Huston appeared in the 1934 Broadway production, which co-starred Fay Bainter as Fran. Huston recreated his role again for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast in October 1937.[5]

The film was in production during Mary Astor's bitter divorce proceedings (over her affair with dramatist George S. Kaufman, where intimate details of the affair were taken from her diary by her husband, who threatened to have them read into evidence; however, the diary entries were destroyed, and not used in court) and child custody battle; during part of the production, to avoid the press, Astor lived in her dressing room bungalow, working on the film during the day and appearing in court in evening sessions.

The film's sets were designed by the art director Richard Day.


Frank S. Nugent, writing for The New York Times in September 1936, described the film as "admirable", and added that director Wyler "has had the skill to execute it in cinematic terms, and a gifted cast has been able to bring the whole alive to our complete satisfaction ... The film version has done more than justice to Mr. Howard's play, converting a necessarily episodic tale ... into a smooth-flowing narrative of sustained interest, well-defined performance and good talk."[6]

Time magazine said it was "directed with a proper understanding of its values by William Wyler, splendidly cast, and brilliantly played".[7]

Among the film industry's leading critics in 1936, the entertainment trade publication Variety bestowed perhaps the highest praise on the production:

Dodsworth is a superb motion picture, which yields artistic quality and box office in one elegantly put together package. It rates maximum enthusiasm. It is one of the best pictures this year or any other year and a golden borealis over the producer's name.

...While the production is praiseworthy in all phases there will probably be an inclination to ascribe the tight wholeness of it all to Sidney Howard's script. He transposes his own stage play version of Sinclair Lewis into a picture that uses the camera to open up the vista a little and enrich a basically fertile theme. William Wyler's direction and the editing credited to Danny Mandel have camouflaged all the seams. Picture has a steady flow and even a dramatic wallop from zippy start to satisfying finish.[8]

Writing for The Spectator in 1936, Graham Greene gave the film a good review, describing it as "a very well-made and well-acted film". Greene criticized the director's overuse of music which he described as "almost incessant", however he praised the "naturalness" of the picture as a quality all too rare in film.[9]

The film was named one of the year's ten best by The New York Times, and was one of the top twenty box office films of the year.

Legendary Turner Classic Movies Host Robert Osborne named Dodsworth his favorite film.[10]

In 1990, Dodsworth was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 2005, Time magazine named it one of the 100 best movies of the past 80 years.[11]

Dodsworth currently holds an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on eighteen reviews.[12]

Awards and nominations

At the Academy Awards, the film was nominated for seven awards, winning one.[13]



  1. "WHICH CINEMA FILMS HAVE EARNED THE MOST MONEY SINCE 1914?". The Argus. Melbourne. 4 March 1944. p. 3 Supplement: The Argus Weekend magazine. Retrieved 6 August 2012 via National Library of Australia.
  2. Quigley Publishing Company "The All Time Best Sellers", International Motion Picture Almanac 1937-38 (1938) p 942 accessed 19 April 2014
  3. AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees
  4. AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot
  5. Dodsworth at Turner Classic Movies
  6. Nugent, Frank S. (September 24, 1936). "Samuel Goldwyn's Film of Dodsworth Opens At the Rivoli -- The Paramount's Texas Rangers". The New York Times. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  7. "Cinema: The New Pictures". Time. September 28, 1936. Retrieved March 16, 2019. (subscription required)
  8. "Land." (1936). "Dodsworth", review, Variety (New York, N.Y.), September 30, 1936, page 17. Retrieved February 12, 2018.
  9. Greene, Graham (6 November 1936). "Dodsworth/Mayerling/Fox Hunt". The Spectator. (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. Oxford University Press. pp. 113-114. ISBN 0192812866.)
  11. Dodsworth at Time All-Time 100 Best Films
  13. "The 9th Academy Awards (1937) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-02-14.

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