Dodsworth (1936)

It begins looking like a flashback movie. A man stands at a window and stares outside at the empire he built one last time. Just by how forlorn his figure looks staring out that window, it's impossible not to think of movies like "Citizen Kane" or even "It's a Wonderful Life". But "Dodsworth" has a great surprise held within it; it isn't a flashback movie. There is little to no reference made as to the backstory of these characters and they all seem relatively human.
"Dodsworth" is a movie that is surprising to see in the canon of film, particularly at this point in time. It is a story of a relationship, of aging, and of finding yourself...and it is remarkably impartial.
Sam Dodsworth (Walter Hudson) a motor vehicle tycoon is finally selling his company and getting on with his life. He has dedicated twenty years to his job, but now he just smokes and sits in his car as he's calmly taken away from it forever.
His wife is waiting for him at home. Fran (Ruth Chatteton) is a woman of grotesquely imagined fame. She wishes to travel through Europe and live life as dangerously as she can while still remaining in her fur cocoon of happiness and sanctuary.
Sam is told that he needs to be stricter with his wife because she's a manipulative woman; but he pays no mind to the warnings. Sam and Fran love each other in their own ways.
So the two embark on a voyage across the ocean to Europe where they plan to eat well and drink plenty. Trying to fit into the elusive upper class of society, Fran makes them both dress regally and act pretentiously. This isn't Sam's style, but her shenanigans catch the eye of a young Captain Clyde Lockert (David Niven). He is entranced by her beauty and she doesn't mind flirting with him in return. As her days are consumed by opulence, Sam finds himself genuinely enjoying his passage to Europe. He gets excited when the first lights from shore are visible. This vacation was a wonderful idea.
While the viewer begins to think that this is just a drama about a poor, unsuspecting man and his cheating wife, that's not how it turns out. As soon as Lockert starts making his moves and professing his love for her, she shuts him down. She's a married woman after all.
So they reunite with their marriage as their common ground; but Sam is starting to become uncomfortable with all the posturing that he must carry out. When they get to Paris, it doesn't get much better because there is the aristocracy in France as well as it's in any country.
The two drift farther apart and Fran starts seeking out the attention of another man named Arnold Iselin (Paul Lukas) who bears a resemblance to Lockert. She wants a little something more out of life, she wants to stay young.
Sam is left trying to deal with a woman whose barreling into a mid-life crisis while still striving for his own happiness—the resulting movie is a very touching and perceptive film about marriage.
This is one of the first movies you can come across that was publicly accepted that dealt with the man's emotions instead of the woman's. This is a gender reversal of the typical strong woman movie of this era of film. Sam is selfish when he wants to be, angry, irate even, jealous, and loving. He is a fully complex character and one who never ceases to grow.
The sanctity of marriage is something that is held is less higher esteem than it is in other movies and the ending of the movie means that love can happen more than once.
Although the story of a hen-pecked man, "Dodsworth" dances around being offensive so skillfully. It's a movie with great emotional impact and wonderful acting.

Score: ★★★½

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