A bittersweet tale of love both lost and found, Dodsworth tells the story of middle-aged Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston), an American industrialist, and his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), a shallow and arrogant woman obsessed with the notion of growing old. They embark on a grand tour of Europe, and along the way Fran falls in with a crowd of frivolous socialites. She soon becomes bored with Sam believing that he is holding her back. As husband and wife drift further apart, Sam develops a friendship with Mrs. Edith Cortright (Mary Astor), a lonely American widow living in Italy. He soon begins to realize that Edith is everything Fran is not; self-assured, confident, and able to take care of herself. As the two grow closer, she restores Sam’s faith and gives him a reason to live.
The three leads are phenomenal, and their characters so convincing that the viewer becomes invested. Walter Huston gives a flawless performance in the title role, a successful man who is content with just living a simple life. Ruth Chatterton is just as fantastic as Dodsworth’s materialistic wife; comfortable with the life her husband provides her, but embarrassed by him, feeling that he will keep her back from the things she wants. Mary Astor is lively, witty and warm as the widow Cortright.
Upon release, the film garnered numerous accolades including several Academy Award nominations one of which was for Best Picture. Yet it only won one, for Best Art Direction. Curiously enough, as amazing as the performances are the film only achieved two acting nominations. One for Best Actor, and in her first Hollywood role, acclaimed actress Maria Ouspenskaya was nominated for Best Supporting Actress despite appearing in only one scene; something she would achieve again for her role in Love Affair (1939).
There are many lovely things about this film (it’s beautifully edited and beautifully paced) but what truly deserves the highest praise are the performances, because this film is a master class in acting. With its disarmingly honest and frank portrayal of a failed marriage, it was probably ahead of its time, but the film is intelligently written, superbly well acted and excellently executed. Dodsworth is a not just a terrific American film, but an outstanding film overall with fully developed characters and a heartbreaking yet uplifting story.
- Directed by–William Wyler
- Produced by–Samuel Goldwyn, Merritt Hulburd
- Written by–Sidney Howard (Adapted from his play), Sinclair Lewis (novel)
- Starring–Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Paul Lukas and Mary Astor
- Music by–Alfred Newman