Dodsworth (film)


Theatrical release poster
Directed by William Wyler
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn
Merritt Hulburd
Written by Sidney Howard
Based on Dodsworth 1934 play
by Sidney Howard
Dodsworth 1929 novel
by Sinclair Lewis
Starring Walter Huston
Ruth Chatterton
Paul Lukas
Mary Astor
David Niven
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Rudolph Maté
Edited by Daniel Mandell
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • September 23, 1936 (1936-09-23)
Running time
101 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1.6 million[1][2]

Dodsworth is a 1936 American drama film directed by William Wyler and starring Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton 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.

The center of the film is a study of a marriage in crisis. Recently retired auto magnate Samuel Dodsworth and his 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 several Academy Awards. Dodsworth was nominated for AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies in 1997[3] and 2007.[4]


Samuel "Sam" Dodsworth (Walter Huston) is the successful, self-made and unsophisticated head of Dodsworth Motor Company, an American automobile parts manufacturing firm, based in the small Midwestern town of Zenith (also the setting for Lewis' Babbitt). His wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), feeling trapped by the boring social life of their small-town existence, convinces her spouse to sell his interest in the company and take her to Europe. Sam disregards the warning of Tubby Pearson, his banker and friend, that men like them are only happy when they are working.

While on the luxury cruise 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 officer (David Niven), only to hastily retreat when he suggests it become more serious.

Once they reach Paris, Fran begins to view herself as a sophisticated world traveler and Sam, with his apparent interest only in seeing the usual tourist sights and inspecting foreign auto works, as increasingly boring and unimaginative. Becoming bolder, Fran pretends to be much younger than she actually is and begins spending time on her own with other men. In the process, she becomes infatuated with cultured playboy Arnold Iselin (Paul Lukas). She suggests Sam return home and allow her to spend the summer in Europe, and, feeling rather out of place in the urbane Old World, he consents.

He is happily welcomed by not only his old friends, but also his daughter (Kathryn Marlowe) and new son-in-law (John Howard Payne), who have moved into her parents' 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 he returns to Europe immediately to put a stop to it.

Fran tries to deny the affair, but breaks down when Sam reveals he has summoned Iselin to confirm everything. She immediately begs for forgiveness, and he still loves her and their shared past, so they decide to patch up their marriage. However, it is soon evident that they have grown far apart. When 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 after all, 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.

Traveling aimlessly throughout the Continent while the divorce is being arranged, in Naples, Sam encounters Edith by chance in an American Express office. She invites him out to stay at her peaceful, charming Italian villa. The two rapidly fall in love. Sam feels so rejuvenated he decides to investigate starting a new business: a Moscow-to-Seattle airline. He asks Edith to marry him and come 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) refuses to give her blessing to Fran marrying her son. 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, in the Baroness's words, an "old wife of a young husband." Kurt asks Fran to postpone their wedding until he can get his mother's approval. Fran sees that it is hopeless, so she telephones Sam to call off the divorce. He reluctantly decides to leave Edith and to sail home with Fran in a sense of duty. However, after only a short time in Fran's critical and demanding company, Sam realizes their marriage is irrevocably over. "Love has to stop somewhere short of suicide," he tells her. He gets off the ship at the last moment 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]


In his review in the New York Times, Frank S. Nugent described it as "admirable" and added, "William 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] 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 said it was "directed with a proper understanding of its values by William Wyler, splendidly cast and brilliantly played."[7]

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.

In 1990, Dodsworth was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 2005, Time named it one of the 100 best movies of the past 80 years.[8]

Academy Awards



External links

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