Dodsworth (1936)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Marriage Drama, Romantic Drama  |   Run Time - 101 min.  |   Countries - USA  |  
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William Wyler's Dodsworth was one of the most mature and adult film dramas of its day, with its interlocking stories of two halves of a marriage turning bad, as the partners realize that they have aged and changed. That it made it to the screen intact was something of a triumph for producer Samuel Goldwyn, director Wyler, and screenwriter Sidney Howard, adapting his own play, based on Sinclair Lewis's novel. In 1936, with the Production Code restricting the kinds of stories one could tell on screen, it was not a time for movies to depict marital infidelities, especially those in which parties are not made to suffer. The beauty of Dodsworth, apart from Academy Award-caliber performances by Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton, is that it tells its story so frankly and effortlessly that the viewer realizes only halfway through that s/he's watching the break-up of a family brought about by the vanity of one member. Ruth Chatterton's Fran Dodsworth has not aged gracefully; she's found nothing to love in her life now that her husband Sam (Huston) is retired and a lot to fear, including the fact that she is older, and a grandmother by the movie's end. Huston's Sam Dodsworth is unfulfilled by business success, but he has a firm enough grasp on who he is to face starting over in late middle age as a new adventure. Thus, she thrusts herself at every young man that she thinks attractive, in a desperate quest to hold onto her youth, while he drifts awkwardly and guiltily into a relationship with a woman like himself (Mary Astor), and the crosscurrents of their disintegrating marriage keep us riveted to the screen for 100 minutes. It was movies like this that Hollywood had in mind, but almost never achieved, when it started adapting Broadway dramas to the screen. Dodsworth never made the kind of money that Goldwyn hoped it might--it was too serious and demanding a drama for audiences in 1936--but it has held up better than almost any other drama from that decade.