Dodsworth (1936)

Ruth Chatterton and Walter Huston
Ruth Chatterton and Walter Huston

'Dodsworth' is one of the best films to come out of the 1930's. It is a romantic drama about the split up of two supposedly happily married people. It was made in 1936, directed by William Wyler and stars Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton and Mary Astor.

The movie is based on a stage play of the same name , which in its turn was based on a 1929 novel by Sinclair Lewis. The novel was adapted for the stage in 1934 by Sidney Howard, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie.

The movie is beautifully acted and skilfully directed, and is engrossing and moving, even today. It received 7 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress and won one Oscar, for Best Art Direction.

In 1990, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

It was ahead of its time in terms of depicting marital infidelity and was the first movie in which a man is seen to walk out of his marriage and not get punished for it.


The story follows the break-up of the marriage of Sam and Fran Dodsworth, played by Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton. Fran persuades her husband to sell his auto business and accompany her on a tour of Europe.

Away from home the couple begin to drift part and Fran begins a romance with a handsome playboy, Arnold , played by Paul Lukas and eventually asks Sam for a divorce. Sam initially tries to keep the marriage alive but, after meeting a beautiful American divorcee, Edith, played by Mary Astor, he begins a new life with her in Italy. Meanwhile, Fran's affair has gone wrong, and she is left to regret her selfish actions.


Sidney Howard first suggested to Sam Goldwyn in 1932 that the novel 'Dodsworth' contained good material for a movie. Goldwyn rejected it as having no potential so Howard himself purchased the stage rights from Sinclair Lewis. Two years and one Broadway success later Goldwyn purchased the movie rights from Howard for $60,000.

Walter Huston and Maria Ouspenskaya recreated their roles from the Broadway production which ran for 315 performances from February, 1934.

For the role of Edith Cortright Goldwyn considered Rosalind Russell and Dolores Costello before deciding on Mary Astor. Astor, herself, was going through a scandal-ridden and bitter divorce and custody trial during the shoot and received solid backing from fellow cast members. Ruth Chatterton actually attended court as a character witness on Astor's behalf.

There was no location shooting and the film was shot completely in the studio. Director Wyler sent camera crews to various European cities, such as London, Vienna and Naples to obtain background shots for authenticity.

Main Cast

The acting is uniformly superb and is one of the factors which makes the movie such an entertaining spectacle.

Walter Huston ... Sam Dodsworth
Ruth Chatterton ... Fran Dodsworth
Paul Lukas ... Arnold Iselin
Mary Astor ... Edith Cortright
David Niven ... Captain Lockert
Gregory Gaye ... Kurt Von Obersdorf
Mme. Maria Ouspenskaya ... Baroness Von Obersdorf
Odette Myrtil ... Renée De Penable
Spring Byington ... Matey Pearson
Harlan Briggs ... Tubby Pearson
Kathryn Marlowe ... Emily
John Howard Payne ... Harry


Director ... William Wyler
Producer ... Sam Goldwyn
Screenplay ... Sidney Howard, based on his play and the novel by Sinclair Lewis
Cinematography ... Rudolph Mat
Original Music ... Alfred Newman (uncredited)
Production Company … Samuel Goldwyn Productions
Distribution Company … United Artists
Format ... B & W
Release Date ... September 23, 1936
Running Time ... 101 minutes

Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Art Direction ... Richard Day
Six Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Samuel Goldwyn Productions
Best Director ... William Wyler
Best Actor ... Walter Huston
Best Supporting Actress ... Maria Ouspenskaya
Best Writing, Screenplay ... Sidney Howard
Bast Sound, Recording ... Oscar Lagerstrom (United Artists SSD)