“WHAT’S GOING to become of me?”
“I don’t know; you’ll have to stop getting younger someday.”
“Are you going back to that washed out expatriate in Naples?”
“Yes, and when I marry her I’m going back to doing things.”
“Do you think you ever get me out of your blood?!”
“Maybe not, but love has to stop somewhere short of suicide.”
THAT is the blistering final scene between Ruth Chatterton and Walter Huston in the great 1936 William Wyler movie adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel “Dodsworth.” (Chatterton’s final shrieks, “He’s gone ashore; he’s gone ashore!” are partially muted by the blaring of the ocean liner’s horns—the ship that was supposed to take the estranged couple home to America.)
In a recent burst of movie-watching, “Dodsworth,” a favorite since childhood (remember, I was a unusual youngster) struck me once again as remarkably realistic, astonishingly so, for the time, and brilliantly acted by Chatterton as the dissatisfied wife, Huston as her restless, recently retired tycoon husband, and exquisite Mary Astor as the affectionate woman to whom Huston is drawn.
Chatterton had been a big star on stage and was one of the first actresses Hollywood called on to appear in talkies. Despite being past the flush of youth, she had a successful movie career. “Dodsworth” was one of her last films, and her crowning achievement. Like Norma Shearer, Chatterton had an odd quality of artificiality—a holdover from several early silent movies and her stage work—combined with a striking realism. In “Dodsworth”—much like Shearer’s “Marie Antoinette”—Chatterton’s pros and cons melded perfectly. As Fran, bored—perhaps justifiably—she is petulant, reckless and unfaithful, her pouting affectations a mask for coarse, unyielding rage.
Walter Huston (father of director John Huston) is a miracle of naturalistic performing, and his character Sam, the automobile magnate, despite his unsophisticated Americanism, is startlingly understanding of his wife’s “flings”—if not exactly thrilled. When she refuses him the intimacy of sex, the marriage finally breaks down (“Is this what’s it’s come to, Fran?”) The scene is a miracle of frankness and discretion.
As for Mary Astor, as Edith, she is luminous. Astor, although remaining lovely, grew matronly rather swiftly (she is thickening even in her most famous role, “The Maltese Falcon.”) But in “Dodsworth,” she is as ravishing as she was in her silent films and her voice is a miracle of varying emotions. Although not as famous as many of Wyler’s other movies, in fact it seems somewhat forgotten, it is one of his most expert and daring efforts. (There was some serious talk in the 1970’s of remaking it with Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, which might not have been a bad idea. But of course Miss Taylor was always too busy living her spectacular “private” life and making movies such as “X, Y and Zee,” “Ash Wednesday” and “Night Watch.” These films are great fun, but hardly moved the box-office needle of her career.)
“Dodsworth” could be remade, perhaps more from Fran’s point of view, but I’d rather it wasn’t.. It’s perfect as is. Oh, and course, we must never forget Maria Ouspenskaya, as the aged and distressingly candid mother of one of Fran’s younger suitors. “There is the question of children,” says Ouspenskaya pointedly, “Rich or poor, Kurt should have children, can you give them to him?” (Fran had made the case for her own wealth, and taking care of the family, who live in genteel poverty).
“What makes you think I couldn’t?” says Fran.
“I am so much older than you are my dear,” Ouspenskaya utters with icy compassion, “you will forgive if I observe that you are older than Kurt.”
On Friday, I’ll meander down this vintage movie road again—nostalgia is comforting in uncertain times.
THIS ‘N THAT:
…HAPPENING this season the New Jersey’s divine Paper Mill Playhouse. “The Sting” a new musical based on the famous 1973 movie with Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Robert Shaw. This will star Harry Connick Jr. as one of the con men of the piece.
Connick is very appealing as a musical star—acting and singing. Loved him in “The Pajama Game” and “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” As and stand alone actor, I find him less interesting, although mighty attractive. He needs music to fully flower.
“The Sting” will play March 29th-April 29th. Broadway looms. The book is by Bob Martin. Mark Hollman, Greg Knotts and Mr. Connick himself have devised the music and lyrics. John Rando directs. Warren Carlyle choreographs. For further info go to www.PaperMill.org
…LATER this year, in September and October, Paper Mill will present the world première of “Unmasked: The Music and Stories of Andrew Lloyd Webber.” This is pretty much what the title suggests—a celebration of Lloyd Webber’s many hits (good grief “Phantom” is still running!) along with new interpretations of songs from the likes of “Evita,” “Cats” “Sunset Boulevard” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Bombay Dreams.” The show has been “created” by Richard Curtis and John Doyle. For tix info call 973-376-4343 or visit www.PaperMill.org. An album “Unmasked: The Platinum Collection” will be released on March 16th.
…AND speaking of Andrew Lloyd Webber, he will sit at Town Hall (123 West 43rd Street) with Glenn Close, his second Norma Desmond of “Sunset Boulevard” for a conversation about his career and his new memoir, titled—surprise!—“Unmasked.” (I say Glenn was his second Norma because some of us recall that Patti LuPone originated the role in London. In fact I saw her in it, and she was very good. La LuPone expected to come to Broadway. She did not. It became quite the little scandal, although Ms. LuPone saw nothing “little” about it. I’ll never forget speaking to her as casting was changed. Her righteous anger burned electrifyingly through the phone wire. It was pretty fabulous.) Maybe Andrew will address that. Sure! Call 212-840-2824.
….IN New York, Nashville and Los Angeles, a terrific photographic exhibition, devoted to the late genius David Bowie is happening at each city’s Morrison Hotel Gallery. Titled “Bowie” the exhibit will display the singer/songwriter/performance artist deluxe in all his varieties over the decades. The show will run from February 22nd to March 23rd. Prints are for sale. The New York gallery is located at 116 Prince Street. Call 212-941-8770.
…WELL, the second episode of “Homeland” has aired, and Claire Danes/Carrie Mathison is clearly having issues with her Lithium—not that the country isn’t still in trouble. I was hoping not see her freak out and compromise herself this season, but the writers took Carrie into a darker, creepier hole than ever. Insane, absurd, but I’m watching.
Also, I’m slowly getting through “Altered Carbon” on Netflix. Everybody seems to be mumbling less—or maybe using the earphones helps. And the basic story—who killed the dead-but-not-really-dead millionaire (James Purefoy) interests me. But all the CGI sci-fi special effects seem annoyingly de trop. I just think it would have worked better as a current day thriller. All hands—Joel Kinnaman, Will Yun Lee, Dichen Lachman, Renee Elise Goldsberry, James Purefoy, Martha Higareda, Ato Essandoh, are doing good work. But their efforts would be more convincing if the show was set in 2018. I can’t binge it. My eyes and head start to hurt. And there are still things I simply don’t understand. But why should my TV be any different than my life?
MAIL: “NO POLITICS. Keep it light. Not all of us are Dems.” This came unsigned last week in response to our remarks on the Florida school massacre and ruminating on why it is unwise to push so relentlessly to impeach the president, with Mike Pence in the wings.
I replied politely that I surely know that everybody’s not a Dem, and that in fact that column, as do most of my “political” remarks, annoy—to put it mildly—my liberal pals. Why? Because I am ever ready to criticize the campaign of Hillary Clinton, the sniggering children of MSNBC, and the general feeling that if we treat the current president as he and the GOP treated Obama, we’ll somehow persevere. I do not believe this is so. I am no fan of our current commander in chief, but I also do not care for the sport of bear baiting. (Even when that bear perhaps very foolishly attempts to bait Oprah).
But I also received this from a reader named Janet:
“We see through the prism of news and politics very differently, but still I feel there is always hope and everyone should hang onto that.
“Though you are feeling so discouraged, you obviously have read a great deal of history and on reflection must realize that so much is out of our control and most of us all slug away and do our bit day by day in our lives trying to navigate through whatever those “in power” put in motion that affect us, and whether we learn about what they put in motion is ultimately what a free press is about (which is why I sometimes despair for the “echo chamber” out there in most print and broadcast media), but we all have free will and a heart and a soul and a mind and that cannot be altered, we should use them. There have been bleaker landscapes in history and Evil is throughout the ages and seems all powerful but it is not all there is and hopefully we learn something in how to protect ourselves from it.”
I am so often encouraged, impressed and learn from my intelligent readers. Thank you, Janet.