February 25, 2014

Walter Huston, Dodsworth

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Won: New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actor

Dodsworth is an interesting film. With a screenplay originating from the 1934 Broadway play, which itself was adapted from the Sinclair Lewis novel, the feature as a whole always felt more like that of a filmed play rather than a purely cinematic story. I have conflicted feelings towards the film--while my interested was generally piqued while watching Dodsworth, I was never fully engaged or consumed. Some of these conflicted feelings go towards star Walter Huston as well, who had previously originated the role of Dodsworth on stage. There's no trace of that stagey acting in his film adaptation--and while I liked Huston's work in the film, there was still something left to be desired here for me.

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 photo ScreenShot2014-02-15at24355AM.jpgPerhaps my main issue here is the character of Dodsworth himself. Firstly, I'll turn the tables: in regards to the spectrum of female characters, I tend to find devoted wives to be the least interesting. There is a layer to that unadulterated loyalty that I feel is incredibly dull and frustrating. Sam Dodsworth is essentially the male version of this character (and you don't see that everyday!). He is a kind man who always has to do the right thing and his dedication for his wife becomes incredibly irritating by the film's halfway point. So for much of the film, I felt as though Huston isn't really doing anything. I felt that he coasted along sort of on autopilot the entire time, never decreasing in quality but hardly turning in anything spectacular either. The man does have an invigorating spirit to him, and he certainly infuses some much-needed vivaciousness to Dodsworth and Dodsworth at times. However, I'm not sure that anything I saw was any more than just decent. Huston has the job of anchoring Dodsworth and yet, just like the narrative, I was only ever minimally interested in him. Huston does have some moments of greatness--the scene in which his wife leaves him comes to mind, and the amount of pained restraint was quite touching. The final scene Huston has with Ruth Chatterton is pretty fiery as well. I just wish there was something more, because if there's anything that bores me, it's a male protagonist who quietly stores away his emotions internally. Ultimately, Huston was merely admirable for me. I certainly don't hate his work here but it's far from something I really, truly love.


  1. I haven't seen the film, but I LOVED the book when I read it years ago. It's a wonderful tour of Europe & would make for a great MINI-SERIES. :)

    1. You've got to check out the film then! And let me know what you think! :)

    2. When you know how it's like with adaptations sometimes... You just KNOW it won't live up to the book (or do it justice).
      It clearly happened to me and Anna Karenina (a book I loved).
      And it's why I avoided any film adaptation of War and Peace (which I mostly ADORED). Though I might try the 8 hours 1968 Russian one some day.

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  3. "Do you think you'll ever get me out of your blood?!"
    "I don't know, but love has to stop somewhere short of suicide!"

    Their final exchange is a long way from Sam Dodsworth's tag-line earlier in the film to wife Fran, "Have I remembered to tell you today that I adore you?" Perhaps never in any film before or after, but in this one I somehow managed to find Walter Houston sexy.

    I love this film, along with "These Three," it made for William Wyler's fantastic one-two punch of 1936. A early-retiree auto magnate and his wife take an extended European vacation, and the new locales and surroundings and temptations unmoor her repeatedly to the disintegration of the marriage. On the threshold of middle-age, and desperate for excitement she feels shortchanged of, Fran embarks on increasingly inappropriate and embarrassing associations.

    Chatterton's is certainly the more flamboyant part, while Huston is asked to be stoic and steady till his character can bear no more, and is finally rewarded with a warm and understanding Mary Astor. Regardless of the worthiness of this or that nomination, the movie itself is a remarkably adult (for its time) look at the unraveling of a marriage.