Many years before directing classics such as Roman Holiday and Ben-Hur, the already-prolific William Wyler scored his first of a record twelve Oscar nominations for Dodsworth in 1937. The film was adapted by Sidney Howard based on his own 1934 stage adaptation of the 1929 novel Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis. Walter Huston reprised his lead role from the stage play for the film and was joined by Ruth Chatterton, Paul Lukas and Mary Astor. This engaging adult marriage drama provides all of these terrific performers a chance to dive into all the nuances that makes these characters honest and fully realized.

Dodsworth centers on recent retiree Sam Dodsworth (Academy Award nominee Walter Huston) and his wife, Fran (Ruth Chatterton), a restless housewife who has been dreaming of escaping the small town life for years. Free from the obstacles of life, the couple takes a trip on the RMS Queen Mary to England as the first stop on an extended trip to Europe. It becomes immediately apparent that the two are not on the same page when it comes to what they want out of life. Fran is afraid of aging and seeming unsophisticated, and she promptly flirts with several different men throughout the trip. An oblivious Sam is not afraid to look like a common tourist and just wants to expand his horizons, and, after being dismissed by his wife, he finds a sympathetic ear onboard from an American divorcee named Edith Cortright (Mary Astor).

There is great uncertainty whether these two will be able to find one another once again, or if they are too far apart to ever regain their spark. The potential deterioration of a marriage might not seem like the most pleasant of topics to witness on screen, but these actors take a whip smart script and bring it to life beautifully. These scenarios are not played to be over the top, but grounded in the reality of a marriage between two people who may have never really been meant to be together. The choices that are made by the individuals can be frustrating, but nothing is truly out of character. Everything about this film is executed perfectly, and it serves as high point in early Hollywood.

Video Quality 

This sparkling new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive is sourced from a 2019 restoration of a 4K scan by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Film Archive and The Film Foundation in association with the Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Family Trust. This undertaking was funded by The George Lucas Family Foundation, which has been doing cinema a great service for quite some time. The film is presented in its original Academy 1.37:1 aspect ratio with a stunning 1080p transfer. It is truly amazing to view a film that is nearly 90 years old and have it look so immaculate. There is a very nice amount of natural film grain with a nearly imperceptible amount of debris or damage to be found. The black levels look great and hold up well throughout, and there is no evidence of any compression artifacts. This transfer is a thing of beauty.

Audio Quality

Dodsworth is presented here with a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mix, and it does not venture away from the original single channel presentation. Alfred Newman provides a very pleasing original score that is well balanced with the dialogue and background noises throughout. There is a minimal amount of age related hiss, but for the most part the audio presentation is pretty spectacular and free of issues. For those not accustomed to the rapid fire delivery of the time, or if you want to make sure you are catching all the clever dialogue, Warner Archive does provide optional English (SDH) subtitles

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Special Features 

  • Lux Radio Theater Broadcast: A one-hour program, originally broadcast on April 12, 1937, that features Walter Huston and his wife Nan Sunderland in the lead roles under the direction of Cecil B. DeMille. This is a nice throwback and all the performers do a great job of bringing the story to life.


Final Thoughts

With excellent performances, gorgeous cinematography and a meticulously craft script, Dodsworth is a true gem of a movie from the Hays Code-era of filmmaking. Warner Archive has once again stepped up to bring a historically important and worthwhile film back to the prominence that it deserves. The technical presentation is truly a marvel and the included radio play is a nice addition to the overall package. Those who are interested in the history of cinema, or just a well told marriage drama, would be wise to seek this one out. Recommended

Dodsworth can be purchased directly through Warner Archive or various other online retailers.

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

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