Movie Poster of the Week: William Wyler’s “Dodsworth”

Above: Italian 4-foglio for Dodsworth (William Wyler, USA, 1936); illustrated by Anselmo Ballester.
William Wyler’s 1936 masterpiece of mid-life crises and European travel, Dodsworth, will play in all its glory at Alice Tully Hall in a brand new restoration at this year’s New York Film Festival. To be introduced by playwright and director Kenneth Lonergan and Wyler’s daughters Catherine and Melanie, it will be a tony affair, as befitting this classiest of productions (as the American poster declares, “Here is a picture that was marked for greatness before it was ever screened!”). Based on Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis’ 1929 novel—which had already been adapted very successfully for the stage by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Sidney Howard—about a wealthy midwestern industrialist, Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston), who retires and takes his restless wife (Ruth Chatterton) on a grand tour of Europe, produced by Samuel Goldwyn, and shot by Rudolph Maté, who had previously shot Dreyer’s Vampyr and The Passion of Joan of Arc, Dodsworth was a prestige production par excellence. And the posters for the film reflect that. The gorgeous Deco-inspired U.S. one sheet below is unusually beautiful for an American 1930s poster and, remarkably, is not credited to an artist of note, as prestige posters often were (even while the journeymen illustrators who worked for the studios toiled in obscurity). This poster, among the most sought after of American one sheets that are not for either horror movies or Casablanca, has fetched as much as $11,000 at auction.
Above: US one sheet. Artist unknown.
The three European posters for the film that I was able to find are equally beautiful. The rapturous Italian 4-foglio, at the top of the page, is by the great Anselmo Ballester. One thing of note about the foreign releases of the film is how the title was changed abroad. In Italy the film was called “Infidelity,” in Spain it was “Disillusion,” in Austria it was “The Crisis of a Marriage,” in Germany it was “Time of Love, Time of Farewell,” in Portugal it was “European Venom,” in Argentina and Brazil it was “Autumn Fire,” in Hungary it was “The Vivacious Woman,” and in Finland and Sweden, as seen below, it was the more prosaic “Why Do Men Change Wives?”
Above: Swedish poster illustated by John Mauritz “Moje” Åslund.
Above: Danish poster illustrated by Kurt Wenzel.
You can clearly see from the U.S. press book how Dodsworth was marketed at home:
The press book also shows the various posters that United Artists made available to theaters and I’ve rarely seen such a lack of homogeneity within a single campaign. From the window card through to the enormous 20-foot wide twenty-four sheet, each version has a different look, and, most notably, a different title treatment.
The U.S. insert poster (14" x 36"), not included in the press kit selection, is a pared down version of the one sheet, incorporating photographs rather than drawings of Huston and Chatterton.
Above: US insert poster. Artist unknown.
The large opening day ad in the New York Times was suitably bombastic and had yet another different title treatment. (Note the 9 a.m. premiere time!)
By the second week the ads had got smaller. Samuel Goldwyn has been reported as having said that “nobody saw it. In droves,” but in fact Dodsworth became a box office hit, one of the top twenty highest grossing films of 1936 and had become one of the 50th highest grossing films of all-time by the end of the following year.
Dodsworth was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor ,and Best Director (the first of Wyler’s record twelve nominations)‚ winning for Best Art Direction for Richard Day.
The film was revived eight years later in 1944 with a more salacious, less-prestige driven campaign whose taglines promise “A Woman’s Passions Emotionally Undressed,” “From the secrets of a WOMAN’S LOVE-LIFE comes this Heart-stopping story of DEVOTION! SACRIFICE! SHAME!” and “She was the kind of Reckless Lady most men were tempted by...BUT NONE WANTED.” (If the latter is supposed to refer to Mary Astor’s supremely dignified divorcée whom Dodsworth falls for in Europe, it couldn’t be more off the mark.) Notably all three styles have the same title-treatment, albeit one much less classy than anything that was used in 1936 (though the one sheet retains the original Deco outline of a woman in post-coital bliss). And by 1944 Wyler had become the director “who gave you Mrs. Miniver.”
Above: 1944 U.S .re-release one sheet.
Above: 1944 U.S. re-release half sheet.
Above: 1944 U.S. re-release insert.
Dodsworth plays at the New York Film Festival on October 10th.