The 1936 film Dodsworth, which is based on the novel of the same name by Sinclair Lewis, uses tremendous realism and complexity to illustrate the disintegration of a once happy marriage. William Wyler’s subtle, beautifully directed marital drama is both emotionally-compelling and extremely well acted. Dodsworth tells the story of a powerful tycoon named Sam Dodsworth (the remarkable Walter Huston), who, after 20 years in the automotive industry, sells his lucrative company and looks forward to spending his retirement with his restless wife, Fran (Ruth Chatterton). The day after Sam sells his company, he and his wife set sail on a long excursion to Europe- full of happiness and hope for a bright future together. Things soon begin to fall apart when Fran’s obsessive desire for youth and her increasing dependence on the attention from other men forces Sam to make painful decisions about himself and the longevity of his marriage. Huston completely inhabits Sam Dodsworth and gives the middle aged man an irresistible boyish charm for the world around him. The film is both sweet and heartbreaking and it boasts an exceptional cast including Mary Astor, Paul Lucas, David Niven, Harlan Briggs and Spring Byington.
Dodsworth was nominated for 7 Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Best Actor (Walter Huston), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound, and Best Art Direction- which Richard Day won for his phenomal set designs. The 7th Oscar nomination for the film went to Russian-born supporting actress Maria Ouspenskaya, nominee, (170) in her film debut. The 60 year old Ouspenskaya is both regal and vicious as the Baroness Von Obersdorf, the Austrian matriach who disapproves of her son’s potential marriage to the tireslessly scheming Fran Dodsworth. Ouspenskaya’s Baroness lays down the law to Fran with an icy, impenetrable visage. Ouspenskaya, who was one of the first five women to be nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, lost the award to Gale Sondergaard in Anthony Adverse.