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Dodsworth – William Wyler

Submitted by on December 28, 2010 – 4:28 amNo Comment

It is fortunate for filmgoing audiences that Sam Goldwyn was a stubborn man, for without his obstinacy, Dodsworth might never have been made. Even though his studio turned out many entertaining products year after year, Goldwyn wanted very much to do movies of importance; and the highly successful Broadway play of Sinclair Lewis’ novel was one in which he was particularly interested. Against the recommendations of his advisers, who told him that Dodsworth would not have any appeal because it was about middle-aged people, Goldwyn proceeded to pay $160,000 for the film rights and brought Walter Huston, who had played Dodsworth on the New York stage, to Hollywood to star in the film.

Part of the appeal of Dodsworth lies in its uncomplicated story. Sam Dods-worth (Walter Huston) is an automobile industry magnate who has retired. At the urging of his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), he takes his first trip to Europe aboard the Queen Mary because she wants him to see the world. He is not particularly enthusiastic,. and goes more to please her than anything else. The trip, however, becomes a psychologically fatal voyage: after much pain, anguish, revelations of true character, and selfish upheaval, their mar­riage is ruined. Fran Dodsworth is caught up with the desire to experience “life” before life leaves her behind. She wants the party to go on forever, without her getting old. Because of this, her husband becomes a constantly distasteful reminder that the years are passing; so she turns to younger men, first on the ship and then in cities throughout Europe.

Sam Dodsworth is an uncultured but devoted husband who is ready to stand almost anything once, even adultery, and who cannot rid himself of the deep sense of responsibility he has accumulated in twenty years of marriage. However, he is also human, and while his wife is pursuing various younger men with exotic accents, he meets a genteel, understanding widow, Edith Cortright (Mary Astor), who is capable and willing to give him the affection and company his wife will not. Their relationship is based on living life for the day without expectations on the future, but their idyll is shattered by a phone call from Fran. Rejected by her last suitor and his baroness mother, Fran says that she is ready to go home and settle down. Sam’s sense of loyalty and honor leave him no alternative but to go with her; she is his wife, representing the life he has known. As their ship prepares to leave port, however, Fran’s shallow repentence for what she has done quickly evaporates and her mean self-centeredness surfaces. It takes only moments for Sam to realize that his wife and the life back home are no longer what he wants. As Edith Cortright stands watching the luxury ship pull out to sea, a small dinghy ties up at the dock with a beaming Sam aboard, returning to the new life he has chosen.

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