Dodsworth (1936) Director: William Wyler
Dodsworth is a bittersweet film about a failing marriage. The film is based on the 1934 play by Sidney Howard, which is based on the 1929 novel by Sinclair Lewis. The film was a commercial and Academy-Award winning success in the 1930s, though I have my misgivings with Sinclair Lewis novels.
Dodsworth tells the story of Sam Dodsworth, played by Walter Huston, a business magnate of the automobile industry in the Midwest. He is from a small town called Zenith. At the beginning of the film, he sells his successful company, Dodsworth Motors, and retires. At home, his wife, Fran, is longing for a new life. She has grown bored of the listlessness in the Midwest. They decide to travel to Europe together, where she soon begins to drift from Sam in an effort to gain attention from other men of the world. She begins to see Sam as dull and backwards, and she starts talking more like the European women and dressing like them and staying out dancing all night.
She develops several liaisons, all of which end in failure. Sam returns home at one point only to find his house and lifestyle are not the same without Fran. He returns to Europe in an effort to win her back, which fails as she has fallen in love with her a man, Kurt. She goes out dancing instead of calling home to her daughter who has just had a baby. She decides to file for a divorce, and Sam leaves to travel around Europe, despondent and alone. He comes upon an acquaintance he had initially made on the boat across the Atlantic and they fall in love while living in her Italian villa. However, the divorce is called off by Fran as Kurt’s mother does not approve. She tries to make amends with Sam as they both board a boat headed back home to the United States, but at the last moment, Sam flees the boat and returns to his lover living in Italy in the closing sequences.
Notably, Mary Astor, a former silent film star who plays Sam’s European acquaintance, was going through a messy and public divorce at the time of the film’s release, and she had left behind a detailed diary of her affairs. It was never released and the contents were destroyed.