Friday, May 3, 2013

Dodsworth

The Mary Astor Blogathon is an event honoring the life and film career of actress Mary Astor, and is hosted by Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings. Click on the links for a complete list of participating blogs.

Dodsworth
seen on TV @ TCM
4.14.13

"What a drag it is getting old," the Rolling Stones sang, and brother, ain't that the truth. It's nothing you can control, try as you might. In your head, you may still feel like you can mosh like a madman and rave till dawn, but one day, you wake up and realize new wave is dead and maybe it's finally time to put that ratty old Cure T-shirt away for good.

So to speak.


For me, that epiphany came when I realized that most of my friends were either married or deep into long-term relationships by now. And not just my friends, either; my sister's gotten married too! (True fact: I found out she was engaged on Facebook.) It's not that I've ever felt in a hurry to tie the knot - in fact, I firmly believe that marriage should not be rushed into, under any circumstances - it was the preponderance of friends and acquaintances doing it within roughly the same five-to-seven-year span or so that depressed me. Well, that and the lack of a Certain Someone in my life, but that, of course, goes without saying.

Sure, you may have done your share of traveling, accomplished goals you never thought you'd achieve twenty years ago, and met all kinds of people, but at some point, you get entrenched in certain patterns, your priorities change, and you settle. At least, many of us do... and maybe that's simply part of first-world life.

Is it wrong to hold on to youth when society tells you to act your age? Because, I gotta tell ya, I don't look forward to old age at all. I understand the younger generation less and less and I'm more cranky about it as a result. Physically, I've already begun to feel slower, more worn down than even five years ago, and I know what's coming. I watched my father spend the last decade-plus of his life in a wheelchair as his body slowly broke down, and I'm seeing my mother struggle with her own infirmities, and I don't want to live my remaining years like that. True, there may be little I can do about it, but if that's the case, why shouldn't I cling to my youth for as long as I can?



I mentioned the Rolling Stones just now - who would've thought that in 2013, they'd STILL be on the road, making music as if it were still 1965? I'm sure plenty of people have told them to pack it in, that they have more money than God and absolutely nothing left to prove, but not only do they refuse to act their age, they sell out arenas year after year. Is it different for them because they're celebrities? Or can we learn something from them?

These are the sort of things that the movie Dodsworth made me think about. I wasn't prepared for its depth, the way it made me feel one way about some characters, and then another. The longer I watched it, the more it moved me, mostly due to Walter Huston's magnificent performance as Sam Dodsworth.



Dodsworth is a retired businessman who takes his trophy wife Fran on a European vacation in an attempt to make up for time lost as a result of his devotion to his work, and perhaps, to save their marriage. Fran has played the role of wife and mother from a relatively young age, and seeing men continue to fall for her feeds her ego and gives her a thrill she no longer gets from her husband. Most of all, it makes her feel young again.

Now, I know the stereotype about women being coy about their age (though in the case of at least one friend of mine, it happens to apply), and I don't pretend for one minute to understand  what it's like for a woman to get older, but I do know that we as a society tend to prefer women to look younger, and that can't be easy for a woman to have to deal with, coming as it does with certain expectations and stereotypes. Plus, within certain strata of high society as the Dodsworths traffic in, it's probably worse.

Notice how Fran dyed her hair?
Still, I had no sympathy for Fran at first, seeing her entertain other men everywhere she and Sam went - until a pivotal scene late in the movie, when someone whose approval Fran desperately wants flat out calls her too old to be running around with a younger man, and the look on her face says it all: she is devastated. It's the last thing in the world she wanted to hear and I couldn't help but feel for her in that memorable moment.

As for Sam, he clearly bends over backwards for Fran, to the point where it looks as if he's about to go way too far for her - and he justifies it at the time by saying that he's too set in his ways to change. (He's eventually proved wrong, thank god.) The impression I got here was that Sam believed it was better to stay in a bad marriage than to be alone, particularly, the unspoken subtext says, at his age - and that's certainly a familiar attitude for a number of people. This is sophisticated stuff, the kind of thing one rarely sees in modern mainstream cinema, and both Huston and Ruth Chatterton nail it...



...This, however, is supposed to be a post about co-star Mary Astor, so I guess I'd better say a few words about her quick. Astor plays a woman whom Sam gets involved with later in the film, though she also pops up early on. She's good too. I can't say I know a great deal about Astor. She was in The Maltese Falcon, of course, perhaps her best known film. I liked her in The Palm Beach Story; she does comedy quite well. I like her voice - semi-deep and cultured without that annoying, aristocratic, faux-British lilt that so many actors from her day tended to put on. No complaints about her at all.

32 comments:

  1. I too felt for Fran at the end. I felt bad for judging her and wanted her to find contentment. Mary Astor as Edith is so right for Sam that they made me ache.

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  2. I was so scared that Sam would go back to Fran at the end! The movie does kinda make her out to be the bad guy in the end, but there are no bad guys in this story, really.

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  3. Dodsworth, shows the emotionally sad ending of a marriage.. The costumes were absolutely beautiful in a film that you will not soon forget.

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    1. Yeah, the clothing was good. Ruth Chatterton had some great gowns.

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  4. As a William Wyler fan, I must admit I usually forget how good this really is. It's a literary adaptation that doesn't feel stuffy at all, but feels as alive on the screen as it must have felt on the page (I've never read the novel, or any Sinclair Lewis, for that matter). Huston and Chatterton are very good, as you point out, but for me, Astor stole the show. There's something so direct and simple about her character, and it would have been so easy to play her as just being simple, but Astor makes her very interesting, and she and Huston work well together. Nice write-up.

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    1. Wyler was indeed very good at these kinds of stories - the truly adult, mature kind that one only sees from Hollywood sporadically these days.

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  5. Rich, you'd joked in your Tweet that your DODSWORTH review that it was only 10% about DODSWORTH, but I think you really nailed these characters thoughts and concerns; none of us gets any younger, but that doesn't mean we can't make the most of the time each and every one of us still have. DODSWORTH is one of those movies I've been meaning to give my undivided attention, and thanks to your thoughtful, moving review, I'll seek it out sooner rather than later. Thanks for your excellent review, my friend!

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    1. You're welcome. At first I was disappointed that Astor herself was a supporting character in this and not a lead, but it didn't matter in the end because the movie as a whole was astonishing.

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  6. This is such a great film from Wyler - both Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton are excellent. Must agree with you that at first I also found it hard to sympathise with Fran because of her apparent selfishness, but later in the film it becomes easier to understand her - and the whole way the couple grow apart is very believable. I keep meaning to read the novel and then go back to the film again. It's a pity that Mary Astor has a relatively small part in this and doesn't get much scope to show her range, but I think she does a great job with what she is given here. Enjoyed your piece!

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    1. The novel must've been quite a hit in its day.

      Glad you liked my post.

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  7. Enjoyed reading your thought-provoking post!

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    1. Thanks much. Come back anytime.

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  8. When you see how bad, bad, bad Mary could be (like the Maltese Falcon or the Great Lie), you realize what a skilled actress she was.

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    1. I assume you mean 'bad' as in the morality of her characters. Astor was good, though again, I have to admit that I like her better doing comedy!

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  9. You've chosen a great film, and a very interesting and sympathetic way to approach it. "Where you sit is where you stand," my mother used to say, meaning your own personal experience colors your reaction to everything, including an old movie. Thanks for sharing yours.

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  10. I'll have to remember that line. Thanks.

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  11. Dosdsworth is in my to-see list, since I'm a huge fan of 1930s movies. Very nice reflection the one will made before starting the review!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Greetings!

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    1. The 30s were indeed a very good time for movies, though I'm partial to the 50s myself.

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  12. Well, it looks like you and I chose the same film for the Blogathon. You and I also agree about how unsympathetic Fran is. Interesting aside about the question of age and how we try to cling to our youth.

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  13. If I had known so many other people were gonna write about this one, I'd have chosen another. Honest! Hope I didn't steal too much of your thunder.

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    1. No problem. We took different angles.

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    2. Which is exactly what I had hoped would happen.

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  14. I agree with you that Mary Astor's voice is wonderful. I find it very soothing. Dodsworth is one of my favorites so personally, I'm glad that so many people chose to write about. As you and Kim said, it gives us lots of different angles on the film.

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  15. You're so right about Walter Huston's magnificence on screen in this film. He is perfection. Since we're both talking about DODSWORTH today, it's been very interesting for me to read your impressions. Talk about wavelengths....!

    And speaking as an official 'oldie' - wait, it only gets worse. Growing old is no joke and if you can postpone it (even if only in your own head) - do it. Except of course, if it means derailing your life and hurting those around you.

    I say: stop short of that.

    Fran Dodsworth turns her marriage upside down and breaks her husband's heart in her quest for eternal youth. She doesn't get any of my sympathy. That's why the end of this story is so very satisfying.

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  16. Sounds like good advice! And yeah, the ending is very satisfying. I couldn't believe that Sam was actually willing to settle for life with Fran until he decides otherwise.

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  17. Rich,
    I really enjoyed your unique review of Dodsworth. I've seen this film at least 5 times and it always leaves me a bit sad. It's my favorite film of Huston's and while Astor was wonderful in her role, Hurricane is still my favorite of her roles. (Not that big of a part though) I found it hard to sympathize with Fran early on too, that soon changed.

    On a personal note. Your words reminded me of so many of my female co-workers who divulged their loveless marriages They go through the motions with their spouses, year after year and it's only because they would rather not be alone. It's just easier to stick with someone. I've always lived by the motto that "I would rather be happy and alone than miserable with someone." : )

    A great contribution to the Blogathon, Rich. I truly enjoyed your thoughts on this very good film.
    Talk to ya soon!
    Page

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    1. Page! Howyadoin?

      I agree that it's better to be alone and happy than miserable and with someone, though the former isn't exactly easy to pull off, either, which, I suspect, is why some people would rather suffer loveless marriages, and you've confirmed for me that this kind of thing is more common than we think.

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  18. I tend to love Astor in almost every role and Dodsworth was no different. In fact, this role may be one of my favorites. Her portrayal of this character is just perfect. Thanks for a thought provoking post.

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  19. I always find out about these blog-a-thons after the fact.

    For me, the reason I watch Dodsworth is for all the actors - each one excellent - even the young John Payne and David Niven. Seasoned actor, Ruth Chatterton is superb as the immature and vain Mrs. Sam Dodsworth.

    But for me the film belongs to Walter Huston and Mary Astor. Huston is just amazing as a nice guy trying to understand his pretentious immature wife, while trying to understand himself.

    Throughout the film, Huston makes several under his breath comments like "Very good...." Or smiles in a mischievous way when someone or something is revealing a truth to Fran (his wife, played by Chatterton) which are truly great scenes from a tremendous actor capable of mixing drama with comedy like a perfect martini. (And I guess when you have excellent direction from William Wyler you're in good hands.)

    I first saw Dodsworth about 8 years ago. Having always been a fan of Astor, I was amazed I'd never seen it before. I never thought of Astor as a "supporting" actor - to me she's a unique and rare blend of true acting star with character actor, making any film she's in, far more interesting if it had been without.

    In Dodsworth, Astor plays, Mrs. Edith Cortright. An American divorcee, who may still be a British citizen. She lives in Italy. She's beautiful but there's a maturity and sadness about her (Astor wasn't even 30 years old). She's a woman in limbo. She's waiting for something.....

    She is invisible in the first scene she's revealed to Sam Dodsworth (Huston) and to us as we hear her beautiful voice prescribing Pibbs to calm Dodsworth's nerves as the ship approaches England.

    There are some great scenes between Chatterton's age-obsessed, Fran Dodsworth and Astor's younger but wise-beyond-her-years, Edith Cortright. I especially love the one where Fran is lying about her age on her birthday and Edith (Astor) replies in a very smart way revealing that she knows Fran is lying. Sam Dodsworth (Huston) is thrilled that Edith has gently told his wife she's full of it.

    And then there's the scene where Sam is excited talking about creating a new airline which would fly to places like Samarkand and he keeps saying, "we" will have to do this and "we" may have to do that (referring to himself and Edith). When she responds, "We, Sam? We?" And then they declare their love for one another - it's a powerful scene. But it's not done in a sappy over the top way. Their friendship and ease with one another is the true love that both have always wanted.

    Edith's (Astor) speech to Sam (Huston) after Fran (Chatterton) calls to say she won't be marrying the Viennese baron and she wants him to take her back (which the good solid Sam is willing to do!) is great writing and Astor says it with such a poignancy without ever becoming melodramatic or maudlin.

    The closing scene is so beautiful, no matter how many times I see it I feel the waterworks turning on. I think it's one of Wyler's best films although it is unfortunately not as well known.

    I wish more people would watch Dodsworth. It's really timeless i the way it intelligently and perceptively depicts relationship dynamics. TCM has been frequently showing it over the past few years. I believe it would make many a new fan for not only Astor but Huston as well.

    Thank you for your blog.

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  20. Wow. Thank you for your comment! Better late than never, I say.

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