Movie review: “Dodsworth”

dodsworth


Dodsworth” is a gem from 1936, directed by William Wyler, based on a subtle little Sinclair Lewis novel. Walter Huston is Sam Dodsworth, head of an automobile-manufacturing firm in Ohio, who’s retiring so that he can enjoy the Good Life in Europe. Ruth Chatterton is his silly shallow younger wife, who’s fairly drooling to get to Europe so that she can misbehave (and she does).

 

 

And Mary Astor is the nice divorced lady that Sam meets on the boat going over to Europe, who lives in Italy “because it’s cheap.”

 

 

Sam adores his silly young wife, even while she cheats on him with a variety of men: English, French, Austrian.

 

 

Finally Sam and his wife part ways.

 

 

Do you think Sam will find the nice lady in Italy whom he met on the boat?

 

 

Hmm. I wonder.

 

 

Mary Astor wrote about it in her wonderful autobiography, “A Life on Film.” She especially remembered creating the scene in which she sees Sam Dodsworth coming to her from the steamship in the Naples harbor. She recreates it for us: the chalk marks on the scenery, and the silly stuff (an ashcan labeled PUT YOUR BUTTS IN HERE that was in her eyeline). And she imagined herself the heroine, and waved to an imaginary man in a boat in the harbor, and made herself believe that it was real.

 

 

And it was real. “At every theater, at every performance,” she wrote, “the audience clapped their hands. It sounded like applause, but it was sheer joy.”

 

 

See “Dodsworth,” kids. It is sheer joy.


 

Humphrey Bogart double feature

humphrey bogart


When I first came to Providence in 1978, there was a little repertory theater on Thayer Street called the Avon Cinema. It showed a double feature every evening, and changed shows three times a week: foreign films, classics, cult films. You could buy a discount card which gave you five shows (ten movies!) for ten dollars.

Ah, children, those were the days.

The Avon still stands, and Partner and I still go there once in a while. It’s eight dollars per show now, and no more double features. But it’s the same cute little theater, with a tiny lobby and an old-fashioned stage inside, and still owned by Kenny Dulgarian (who, in the 1970s and 1980s, used to greet people in person).

I was also reminded of this because, the other night, on Turner Classic Movies, I saw “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca” together, one right after the other.

That was one of the classic Avon double features: at least once every month or two, Kenny would show those two movies together. And, for a couple of bucks, wouldn’t you go see them? (Remember, these were the days before VHS or DVD or cable or Netflix or streaming video. If you wanted to see a movie, you had to go see it in a theater.)

Both are beautiful black-and-white masterpieces. Humphrey Bogart is at his best in both (he really did twitch his lips that way). And the supporting casts! Mary Astor as the scheming / seductive Bridget O’Shaughnessy in “Falcon,” and Ingrid Bergman as the luminous Ilse Lund in “Casablanca.” Sydney Greenstreet, evil and somehow sympathetic and funny in both. Peter Lorre, slimy and odd in both. Noah Beery, young and nasty, in “Falcon.” Claude Rains, elegant and funny, in “Casablanca.”

I think that these two movies themselves are an education in film studies. If you learn them – learn them well – you’ll figure out what movies are all about.

They are the stuff that dreams are made of.


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