Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) has just retired from his automobile business and plans on traveling Europe with his wife, Fran (Ruth Chatterton). From the start, it seems they have different ideas on how to spend retirement. Sam wants to see and do everything; he gets so excited over all of England’s history while they’re still on the ship. Fran however wants to be very social and hob-knob with high class society where ever they go. She starts to become weary of her age, gets too social and starts flirting with every rich young man she finds. Poor Sam is oblivious to his wife’s deception for a while, but once it is discovered he realizes how far apart they’ve drifted. Is there any hope in their marriage?
That all sounds kinda melodramatic, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. Sam isn’t the kind of sap that could be stuck in a soap opera. He’s a good old American hard worker who’s built a company for the past twenty years and brought all the bacon home to a wife he dearly loves. Even in his middle age, he’s energetic and passionate. When he see’s a light in the distance on the ship, he runs to his wife and her latest dance partner to have them see too.
Problem is all of that bores Fran to pieces. She doesn’t care for any of the great monuments, museums or history around her, she just wants to party like it’s 1939. That means dressing up in her best gowns, sipping drinks with the rich and dancing with younger men. She seems ashamed of her husband for wanting to run around and sit in street cafes like an American hick.
I rather enjoyed seeing a woman’s mid-life crisis at work. Usually we only hear about men in a new sports car looking for younger women and claiming to be only thirty-five. Women can sink just as low, and in some cases it just seems shallow and ungrateful.
My favorite scene has to be when Fran meets her hopeful mother-in-law-to-be. She’s an old hag of a woman (her son can’t be much older than twenty-five) with a big shiny cross hanging around her neck and boy does she put Fran in her place. The old woman condones Fran for being immoral enough to plan a divorce and then asks her how much happiness she expects from the life of an old wife to a young man. What an eye-opener!
Throughout the film, I just didn’t feel like I was watching some old, worn out crusty reel from the 1930’s. The story honestly captured my attention; I was invested from start to finish cheering on Sam and detesting Fran. There were no intrusions of random song or dance, thank heaven! If you want to steer clear of theatrical performances and just want a great story, skip The Great Zeigfeld, Dodsworth is the one for you.
“You’ll have to stop getting younger someday.”