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Classic drama “Dodsworth” holds up in new restoration

Updated: Jun 5, 2022


Ruth Charrerton as Fran Dodsworth, the vain and younger wife of industrialist Sam Dodsworth played by Walter Huston, who received an Oscar nomination.

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Blu-ray; 1936; Not Rated

Best extra: The Lux Radio Theater presentation of the screenplay

FROM THE great American novel by Sinclair Lewis, William Wyler’s “Dodsworth” evolved from a 1934 stage version written by Sidney Howard, who then went on to write the screenplay.

“Dodsworth” is the story of a marriage in which an aging, automobile magnate has just reluctantly retired. His younger wife, after years of acting the perfect high-society matron, sees the retirement as a chance for the travel and adventure she feels is her due. Walter Huston is terrific as the earnest, clueless Sam Dodsworth, and Ruth Chatterton perfectly inhabits Fran, Sam’s vain, self-involved missus. Fran is terrified of aging and maintains her slender figure, drapes herself in the latest fashions, and consistently lies about her age. So when the couple embarks on the ocean voyage to Europe for their grand tour, Fran begins her search for excitement and confirmation of her attractiveness. She doesn’t have to look far, and soon meets a handsome young man (David Niven), with whom she spends the majority of her time onboard … only to reject him when the ship arrives in England.

Sam also meets someone on the ship – Edith (Mary Astor) – but in a platonic way that seems to be only in passing. What follows is a succession of romantic flings on the part of Fran and exasperated recriminations by Sam, usually ending in reconciliation and promises of future faithfulness. At a party in Paris, the couple encounters Edith once more, who takes Fran aside and advises her not to risk her marriage with reckless affairs, such as with the charming playboy (Paul Lukas). But later in Vienna, when Fran meets a dashing young baron (Gregory Gaye), she falls in love with him and he proposes marriage. She accepts, soon telling her broken-hearted husband she wants a divorce, just as their daughter (Kathryn Marlowe) is due to give birth to her first child back in Michigan.

(1) "Dodsworth" was the first of five films director William Wyler made for Samuel Goldwyn that received Best Picture Academy Award nominations. The films included: "Dead End" (1937), "Wuthering Heights" (1939), "The Little Foxes" (1941) and "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946). Sam Dodsworth sells his automotive company and says goodbye to his workers. (3&4) Sam and Fran talk about their upcoming voyage on the Queen Mary and their grand tour of Europe.


Fran is mortified at the idea of being a grandmother, choosing to stay in Vienna. With a few surprises on the way to a somewhat predictable conclusion, the film’s fine writing, acting and directing add up to enormously satisfying entertainment. With a cast that also includes John Payne, Spring Byington, Harlan Briggs, and Maria Ouspenskaya, “Dodsworth” received several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Actor (Huston), Screenplay, and Supporting Actress (Ouspenskaya). This is a timeless story that has worn its 86(!) years exceptionally well.


This Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray looks excellent in 1080p black and white. It was derived from a new, restored 4K scan made last year, and is shown in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The contrast is ideal; fine detail is present consistently, with a nice filmic grain. The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio is nearly perfect, with dialogue always crisp and clear, the score (by the legendary Alfred Newman) perfectly balanced, and sound effects naturalistic. English subtitles are provided.


The one bonus feature is an hour-long 1937 radio production of “Dodsworth,” starring Huston as Sam and his real wife Nan Sunderland as Fran. The performance is very well done and enjoyable in its own nostalgic sort of way.

— Peggy Earle

(1) British actor David Niven plays Captain Lockert, who makes advances to Mrs. Dodsworth. (2) Hungarian actor Paul Lukas plays playboy Arnold Iselin. (3) Onboard the Queen Mary Sam Dodsworth meets Edith Cortwright (Mary Astor), a kind, attractive divorcee. (4) Arnold Iselin starts to charm Fran Dodsworth during her and Sam's stay in Paris.


(1) Sam returns to Europe and sets up a meeting between himself, Fran, and Arnold Iselin. "I wanted to see you two face-to-face. Fran alone would've wasted time acting. I knew you'd been in Biarritz together. I'm sorry, Fran. I hate undercover work myself," says Sam. (2) Fran tells Sam about her relationship with the young baron Kurt Von Obersdorf (Gregory Gaye).

(1) Preparing to return to the U.S. without Fran, Sam bumps into Edith Cortwright at an American Express office. She invites him to stay at her villa in Italy. (2). Sam receives a call from Fran at Mrs. Cortwright's home. (3&4) Fran is shocked by Sam's decision, as he heads on his own course.





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