Dodsworth – William Wyler
Dodsworth is an extremely well-made and well-acted film. Sam Dodsworth is a man we understand and respect, if not altogether believe for there is a basic improbability inherent in the story, and therefore, in Sam’s character; how could he and Fran have been married for twenty years before he realized what a priggish, selfish, vain woman she was? Perhaps all his years spent building his automobile business kept him from really knowing his wife; or perhaps he simply cannot believe that she is the woman he married.
Dodsworth is a very personal story which gives the impression of a film of large scope, mainly because of Walter Huston’s portrayal. Since he com¬manded the role on Broadway for two years prior to the movie, it was a role in which he was as comfortable as any actor could be, and yet the acting is entirely fresh. Huston’s Dodsworth is a man of sympathy, humor, irony, and delicacy, and it is sometimes impossible to tell what in Dodsworth is Huston and what is Sinclair Lewis, since the actor fits the character perfectly.
As Fran Dodsworth, Ruth Chatterton creates one of film’s most despicable women; her dialogue spews forth venomously and she is consummate in displaying the character’s embittered egotism through the way she holds her body, tight and self-conscious, like someone always on display. The character of Edith Cortright is as far removed as possible from the usual “other woman,” and Mary Astor plays her with remarkable grace and intelligence. Also adding to the character of the film is the casting of a young man named David Niven as Major Clive Lockert in his first role for Goldwyn, although he had had a contract with the studio for some time.
Although Dodsworth is essentially a static and talky film, William Wyler has directed it skillfully in cinematic terms. It easily could have been a visually confining piece, but it is not; the pace flows evenly and is dramatically balanced to sustain the impact of important scenes, then eases naturally back into the expository. The.look of the film is grand, expensive, and very Con¬tinental, although most of the major shooting took place at the Goldwyn studios in Hollywood. Only a small secc1nd-unit was sent to Europe to film the exteriors which give the film such a colorful background.
Goldwyn’s insistence that Dodsworth was important and thus had to be perfect almost kept Dodsworth from ultimately being filmed. Sidney Howard’s dramatization of the novel was submitted; according to those involved, it was well-constructed and, in fact, expertly concealed some of the story’s basic flaws. Goldwyn, however, brought in another writer, who was then embar¬rassed because he could find no way to improve upon Howard’s adaptation. Over the next two years, Goldwyn hired and fired five more writers and accepted, then rejected, eight different drafts before he finally realized that he could not improve on Howard’s version, and that adaptation at last became the official screenplay.
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