Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Dodsworth (1936) at the Academy

Monday evening I was privileged to attend a very special event at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater, the inaugural screening in the Robert Osborne Celebration of Classic Film.

The film shown that night was a restored 35mm print of one of Robert Osborne's favorite films, DODSWORTH (1936), directed by the great William Wyler.

As described on the Academy website, "The Robert Osborne Celebration of Classic Film is a new series funded by the Robert Osborne Estate designed to return classic films to the big screen for new audiences. A panel of Osborneā€™s closest Hollywood friends will discuss his legacy and inspiration."

And what a panel it was! Angela Lansbury, Eva Marie Saint, Diane Baker, Robert Wagner, and Carole Cook reminisced about Mr. Osborne, moderated by the Academy's Randy Haberkamp. It was rather amazing to consider the collective career experiences of the group gathered on the stage.

While I've been fortunate to see four of the actors on past occasions, some of them multiple times, it was a particular joy for me to see Angela Lansbury in person for the first time ever.

Turner Classic Movies has put together some short video clips from the discussion.

There was a big turnout from the Southern California classic film community, not to mention people from further afield, including folks from TCM in Atlanta and Eddie Muller in from San Francisco. It was a joyous celebration of the legacy of a wonderful man who had such a positive impact on both classic movies and those who love them.

Following the panel discussion, Ben Mankiewicz was on hand to introduce DODSWORTH, which was in turn followed by footage of Robert Osborne introducing the film on TCM. Perfect.

DODSWORTH was written for the screen by Sidney Howard, based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis. It concerns a newly retired automobile manufacturer, Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston), who leaves on a European jaunt with his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton).

It becomes apparent that Fran is having a mid-life crisis, as she flirts increasingly seriously with a succession of men (David Niven and Paul Lukas). She refuses to return back to the U.S. with Sam, wanting to rent a house in Europe for a few months...never mind that her daughter (Kathryn Marlowe) and son-in-law (John Payne) are going to make her a grandmother, that just reminds her she's getting older.

In time, Fran asks Sam for a divorce, hoping to marry the younger Kurt (Gregory Gaye), if his formidable mother (Maria Ouspenskaya) will agree.

Broken-hearted Sam, meanwhile, is rejuvenated when he becomes reacquainted with a lovely, understanding divorcee (Mary Astor) he had first met on the ship to Europe.

DODSWORTH is very highly regarded by a number of people I respect, but I was honestly of two minds about it. On the one hand I appreciated its craftsmanship and performances, particularly the glowing Mary Astor. Ironically, Astor was going through a very difficult divorce trial at the time the movie was made. You'd never know it from her tranquil performance -- and indeed, it was mentioned in the introduction that she deliberately brought the personality of her character from this film to the courtroom.

While the acting was superb, at the core this was a sad story, dominated by a selfish, self-involved woman in Chatterton's Fran. I wanted to cheer when Maria Ouspenskaya's character ran Fran through a verbal shredder; Ouspenskaya only had one scene, but it was memorable, and she was nominated for an Oscar, one of seven nominations received by the film.

I doubt Wyler (also Oscar nominated) ever made a bad film, yet in the end, I didn't find it hugely enjoyable watching the dissolution of a long-term marriage, all the more so when one of the spouses was interested in working on the relationship and the other was totally "checked out." Despite a positive finale, overall the story was a tragedy; the film was well made and involving, but I can't say I'd be anxious to watch it again.

DODSWORTH runs 101 minutes. It was filmed by future director Rudolph Mate.

DODSWORTH is available on DVD. It also had a release on VHS.

March 2020 Update: This film is being released on Blu-ray this month by the Warner Archive.

May 2020 Update: My review of the Kino Lorber Blu-ray may be read here.


Blogger barrylane said...

Ruth Chatterton never had another Hollywood film after this, for whatever reason. She did, a year or two later, get a British picture, but after that, nothing.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I really enjoyed her in FEMALE (1933). It's interesting her career ended when it did, she was talented.

Best wishes,

10:43 AM  

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