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A bittersweet tale of the increasing estrangement of a retired automobile tycoon and his wife. Increasingly obsessed with maintaining an appearance of youth, she falls in with a crowd of frivolous socialites during their "second honeymoon" European vacation. He, in turn, meets a woman who is everything she is not: self-assured, self-confident, and able to take care of herself. Written by
Sonya Roberts <email@example.com>
"Dodsworth" is a disarmingly honest and frank depiction of a failed marriage, based on the Sinclair Lewis novel. Its naturalistic acting and its refusal to make its characters anything less than full-bodied human beings make it feel way ahead of its time. It's never mentioned along with other classic films of the period--probably because it doesn't have an epic scope--but it should be.
Walter Huston gives an absolutely flawless performance in the title role. His type is so recognizable, even today: the successful American business man who values the simplest and most traditional of American values, and who comes across as provincial and crass to the rest of the world. Ruth Chatterton meets Huston's performance every step of the way as Dodsworth's wife, glad of the material comfort her husband can provide, but embarrassed by him and aware that he will prevent her from joining the world of high culture to which she wants to belong. It is to the movie's distinct credit that neither of these characters is either hero or villain. Dodsworth is crass and unsophisticated; yet at the same time he's honest and never misleads his wife into thinking he's something that he's not. Mrs. Dodsworth has a right to be bored by the kind of life Dodsworth is content with, but she might have thought of that before so readily accepting his financial success.
I don't really know for sure, but I have a feeling this movie might have made people very uncomfortable in 1936. I doubt married couples were encouraged to turn too critical an eye on their own marriages back then, and I suspect that more people than not decided to stick it out in unhappy marriages rather than violate a sense of social propriety. Before the days when people dated for a few years before getting married, many people probably learned about the kind of person they were marrying only after the wedding day. "Dodsworth" beautifully captures the sad, melancholy feeling of waking up one morning and realizing you're not married to the person you thought you were.
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