Saturday, November 26, 2005

Dodsworth (1936)

When automobile tycoon Henry Dodsworth retires from making his fortune, he decides to please his wife with some globetrotting. If it had worked, this wouldn't be a drama. That's okay, though; we're not supposed to like her. She's a woman come into money by an unexpectedly prosperous marriage to a man she doesn't need. Where's the future in that?

The title character's more worth his salt. Absent-mindedly going about the business of being on vacation, free to do as he will, we see a persistent man - if not a workaholic - with an imaginative bent that really endears him despite his crusty outer persona and hard-nosed mindset. While on a foray in Paris, he rushes around the hotel room, attempting to get things right, grabbing his guide book at the last minute while the taxi driver waits on him.

He's really quite lovable. It's too bad all the other people in the movie have to show up. Few of them are half as interesting. And while the cinematography and script are very solid, since when is that a substitute for a storyline that captures the intellect and inspires the heart? This film nearly pulls that much off, but the ending is a bit too terse. There's a wonderful moment when Dodsworth, having told a woman he really fancies that leaving her was what really hurt, meets with his unfaithful wife one last time.

Could the line "I'm going to town to make reservations" have had any more heat? I think not.
This film definitely lies off the beaten path of American cinematic history. At the very least, it should be remembered as conscious, responsible filmmaking. What helps to set it apart is a total lack of violence and a dedication to the simple understanding of the story itself. There's a separate sort of peace in this film, found somewhere between one man's determination to pursue happiness with as much gusto as he did his fortune and the concept that the pen is mightier than the sword. It isn't frivolous, self-serving, or witty by half of the day's standards.

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