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Movies for Grown-Ups, Part 2: Dodsworth and the Shame of Age

True story!  My personal copy of Dodsworth was bought from a local video store (remember them!?) that went out of business.  When I arrived at the sale, the ‘Classics’ shelf had been picked clean. I mean, every single film was gone -- except for Dodsworth.

-- film blogger “Mildred Fierce”

In the first installment of “Movies for Grown-ups,” I beseached you to watch Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), a movie about two old people nobody cares about.

If you read a typical TV Guide-type description of Dodsworth (1936), I doubt you’d find it any more enticing:

“Two rich Midwestern Americans go to Europe for the first time.”

Great. Who wants to endure two hours of archaic, sarcastic Continental snide about “ugly Americans” and “innocents abroad”? Don’t tell me: the Yankee hicks wonder why somebody doesn’t “fix” Venice, then order hot dogs at Maxim’s.

Actually, no.

That’s what I thought on the rare occasions Dodsworth (heralded by some equally off-putting synopsis) popped up on the small screen. I was all for watching “a fearlessly mature drama” about a disintegrating marriage as long as it was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or something similarly “daring” and drunken, with plenty of shattering glass.

But a homely middle-aged couple in stiff evening clothes -- on a steamship? I’d stick with yet another broadcast of Die Hard.

Yet as I explained in the first installment of this series, my tastes in movies evolved once I hit middle age. Many “boring” movies suddenly made sense. Dodsworth became one of those films for me when Turner Classic Movies aired it as one of their “Essentials” about three years ago.

Theories abound as to why this movie remains “unjustly neglected” decades after cinephiles first started calling it a masterpiece. TCM’s main article about the film speculates:

It may have been simply too serious, too subtle, and too sophisticated for the taste of the general public.

Certainly, it flopped at the box office. (“I lost my goddam shirt” on Dodsworth said producer Sam Goldwyn. “I'm not saying it wasn't a fine picture. It was a great picture, but nobody wanted to see it. In droves.”)