Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Anne Shirley and Barbara Stanwyck
STELLA DALLAS (1937). Director: King Vidor.

Stella is a young woman in a family of mill hands who wants a better life for herself and gets it when she contrives to meet an executive at the mill, Stephen Dallas (John Boles). But although she lands the guy, Stella is a vulgar and unsympathetic person in many ways, and the two soon separate. However, Stella is redeemed by the sincere love she feels for her daughter, Laurel (Anne Shirley). But as the girl grows and bonds with her father and the new lady in his life, the widow Helen Morrison (Barbara O'Neil), Stella comes to realize that her rather declasse status may do her daughter more harm than good. Some aspects of Stella Dallas have to be taken with a grain of salt. It's one of those movies where people are terrible to other people that they love because they think they need "to be cruel to be kind" [along the lines of the guy who discovers he's going to be permanently crippled telling the woman who adores him that he hates her so she can be "free."] Once you accept that somewhat dated convention, it is easy to focus on the film's major strengths, which include Stanwyck's utterly superb performance [one of her finest in a career of excellent performances], as well as sterling work by Shirley, John Boles, boisterous Alan Hale as a friend of Stella's, O'Neill, Ann Shoemaker, Marjorie Main, and others. [Even Olin  Howlin/Howland from The Blob --years in his future -- shows up!] One of the best scenes is a very moving encounter between Stella and Helen, and the ending -- if slightly contrived and "dramatic" -- is lovely and poignant. Hattie McDaniel, Jimmy Butler, and Tim Holt also have small roles. All this and an excellent score by Alfred Newman as well.

Verdict: Stanwyck and a general air of classiness lift this out of the soap opera level, but it's definitely a classic tearjerker. ****.


Harry Heuser said...

I haven't seen this one in ages, Bill. I wrote a paper about it in college.

You're right, it is dated; but doesn't the 1990 remake feel more dated than the original? Stella Dallas was also a long-running radio soap opera. You might enjoy this version:

Meanwhile, I have an original program for the British release of the film:

William said...

Hey, Harry! Thanks for your comment. I haven't seen the remake with Bette Midler in a long time but I remember thinking it wasn't nearly as good as the original, and Ben Stiller was still hot. Many thanks for the links. I like your blog as well!