Dodsworth (William Wyler / U.S., 1936):

From Midwest car industry to European aviation, "the education of an American." Smokestacks on a rearview mirror comprise the last of Dodsworth Motors; now with only time on his hands, the magnate (Walter Huston) is off to the Continent with the wife (Ruth Chatterton), an increasingly acrid holiday. The compulsive flirtations of insecurity govern the lady’s voyage, the string of "steamship intimacies" include a British gigolo (David Niven), a French banker (Paul Lukas), and an Austrian momma’s boy (Gregory Gaye). The husband meanwhile runs out of touristic attractions and nurses the marriage’s fissures, until the vivacious Michigan divorcée (Mary Astor) welcomes him into her Neapolitan villa. "The old triangle stuff" with a new rigor of scrutiny, that’s William Wyler on Sinclair Lewis, rather a winnowing Neruda approach ("If little by little..."). A record of a renowned performance—Huston’s Sam Dodsworth is shrewd, irritable, humorous, overbearing, wounded—but also an album of studious screen arrangements, from drawing rooms to liner decks to Mediterranean verandas. Glances and gestures are Wyler’s forte: Chatterton narrowing her eyes while her husband manhandles a fancy fur coat, Huston smirking wryly as his wife shaves some ten years off her age to their guests, the way he savors a cigarette while she’s consumed by news of being a grandmother. Swathed in black veils and wielding a gleaming crucifix, the Baroness (Maria Ouspenskaya) limps in for a single, stinging confrontation; the camera pans from the rejected Chatterton calling long-distance to a chilly window and dissolves to the sunny Italian coast, where a noisy phone looms over a hopeful couple in a telling deep-focus composition. "Love has got to stop someplace short of suicide!" A Lesson in Love and Scenes from a Marriage attest to the range of influence on Bergman, Axelrod (Phffft) and Lear (Divorce American Style) mine it raw for gags. Cinematography by Rudolph Maté. With Kathryn Marlowe, Harlan Briggs, Spring Byington, and John Payne. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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