For all that Sinclair Lewis' reputation rests on the satires of Babbitt, Main Street and Elmer Gantry, Dodsworth is something different, much more mellow and much more sympathetic.
The movie, written by Sidney Howard and directed by William Wyler, does a fine job of telling the story of Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston), a recently retired automobile manufacturer, and his younger wife, Fran (Ruth Chatterton). Sam Dodsworth is smart and decent, very much the idea of an American. He's no one's fool, and his values of fairness and faithfulness guide his decisions. He loves his wife, but understands her, too. Fran longs to escape the constraints of the stifling, mid-west town of Zenith where Sam had built his company. When he sells the company, they decide to go to Europe on the grand tour, something Fran has longed for. "Sam, I want a new life all over," she says, "from the very beginning...a perfectly free, adventurous, glorious life...why, if we weren't tied to this half-baked middle-western town...oh, Sam, darling, I want all the lovely things I have a right to."
They go to Europe, and on the liner meet Edith Cortwright (Mary Astor), a sympathetic divorcee, and Clyde Lockert (David Niven), the first of several men Fran becomes attracted to. Fran is swept up in the clever, cultured ways of the European men she meets. Increasingly, we see how spoiled, superficial and petulant she is becoming. "You've got to let me have my fling now," she cries to Sam, "because you're simply rushing at old age, and I'm not ready for that." Eventually she maneuvers things so that Sam returns home while she stays in Vienna. What's wrong with her, a friend asks Sam. "She's scared of growing old."
By the end of the movie Sam Dodsworth has learned a good deal about himself and the limits a person can reach. We expect him and Edith Cortwright to achieve a happiness that neither probably thought to have. And for Fran, she will most likely remain a deeply unhappy woman.
This is an excellent, mature drama that contrasts, within the unravelling of a marriage, the Thirties' view of the cultural, controlling sophistication of Europe with the direct vigor of America. Walter Huston does a magnificent job as Sam Dodsworth...strong, decent and, at first, out of his depth. He creates such a sympathetic characterization of Dodsworth that the final moments of the movie bring a real sense of joy and satisfaction.
The DVD picture is in fair shape considering the age of the movie. The only significant extra deals with cast biographies.