In the past decade, I’ve developed quite a taste for the novels of Sinclair Lewis, who was the first American to win a Nobel Prize in literature. One of my favorite Lewis novels is Dodsworth (1929), which is about a successful industrialist who sells his automobile company and leaves with his wife for an extended European vacation. Lewis was more celebrated for Main Street, Babbitt and Elmer Gantry, the last of which I read when I was in high school.
In the 1920s, it was possible for successful industries to be individually owned. Other than that, times don’t seem much different.
Lewis (1885-1951) wrote about the “roaring ‘20s” mostly, and one of the reasons I developed an addiction to his fiction was that it reminds me of post-Reagan America. He was an insightful satirist, famous for novels about successful, if sometimes disillusioned, businessmen. Contrary to what many might think, the protagonists in Lewis’ fiction are mostly sympathetic and likable in their ways.
Sam Dodsworth is a simple man who doesn’t care for the social whirl. He feels out of place in Europe, but his wife, Fran, revels in it. They grow apart. Fran, motivated by her vanity and fear of lost youth, wants to become a permanent expatriate. She “falls in with a crowd of frivolous socialites,” and Sam, who becomes bored with inactivity, feels her slipping away.
It’s probably been three years or more since I read Dodsworth, but I watched the movie, directed by William Wyler in 1936, Tuesday night. I highly recommend it. Walter Huston was a perfect choice to play Sam, and Ruth Chatterton was exceptional as Fran. Mary Astor plays Edith Cortwright, who becomes Sam’s love interest after he and Fran are estranged.
“Dodsworth,” which earned Wyler the first of 12 nominations for Best Director (he won three Oscars), is close to perfect.
I love old movies. I’ve watched Turner Classic Movies (TCM) almost as much as ballgames and news shows recently. There’s a craftsmanship in old movies that modern ones lack. No one filmed a movie with greater care than John Ford, and no one put one together better than Sir David Lean. What was the greatest movie of all time? Many say “Citizen Kane.” Others suggest it was “Casablanca.” My choice is Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia.” I’ve watched all three within the past month.
Great novels do not always make great movies. Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities was a train wreck, one so disastrous that I fear it detracts from the image of the novel. On the other hand, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men (old version with Broderick Crawford as Willy Stark), and, yes, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind were brilliantly adapted to the screen.
I’m reading Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, though I never saw the popular miniseries that sprang from it. I’m going to be on the lookout for it.