Barbara Stanwyck is the self-sacrificing "Stella Dallas" in this 1937 film directed by King Vidor and also starring John Boles, Anne Shirley, Barbara O'Neill, and Alan Hale.The lower-class Stella Martin sets her sights on a successful businessman from an upper-class family, Stephen Dallas. The two marry and have a daughter, Laurel, but over time it becomes apparent that the marriage just can't work. Stella's a girl who just wants to have fun; the stuffy life and staid clothing just aren't for her. Stephen goes to New York to work, leaving Stella and Laurel in Boston. They both adore the little girl. But as she grows up into the lovely Anne Shirley, Stella thinks her slatternly presence may be limiting her daughter's chances for happiness.This film is a major tear-jerker with an absolutely wonderful performance by Barbara Stanwyck as a warm, outlandishly dressed, and loud woman who nevertheless is devoted to her daughter and wants only the best for her. Anne Shirley is sweet and loving as her daughter, Barbara O'Neill is excellent as Stephen's ex-girlfriend, now widowed, and John Boles gives a gentle performance as the kind Stephen."Stella Dallas" will make you cry, but you'll be glad you saw it.
Young reviewers seem to get so much wrong about 'Stella Dallas' in that they deprecate what they mistake to be its "classism" and snobbery - which in 1937 were, of course, powerful extant social realities and motivators for Depression audiences. It would be helpful if youngsters would see Stella and her husband as characters separated by what's known nowadays as "irreconcilable differences," and therein lies the basis for the eternal theme of Stella's sacrifice: this is tragedy incomparably played because, as Barbara Stanwyck shows us, tragedy is intrinsic in, and flows from, a protagonist's immutable flaws. Of course one allows for youngsters misapprehensions of 'Stella Dallas' because the young have always lived in an increasingly socially-levelled America in which, since World War II as Tom Wolfe acutely noted, "every man" is "an aristocrat" regardless of how outlandish or extreme his dress or behavior, or how low or high his occupation, is.It's also true that many of this film's naysayers mistake Stella's chameleon-like adaptations in various milieux to be evidence of poor scriptwriting, or of "unevenness" in the concept and performance of the title role. Nothing could be more mistaken for, as is each of us, Stella is a complex character whose handling of changing situations adapts to each of those situations, while her personality remains true to itself and cannot be altered (her "personality" is acknowledged by Stella herself with that very word in the soda fountain scene). Yes, Stella wed in a bid to gain wealth and class. Yes, Stella went dancing and was attracted to an unsavory crowd on the night she brought her newborn daughter home. But when she returned home the look, communicated with gorgeous subtlety, on Stanwyck's face tells that Stella's outlook - but not her personality - is in that moment transformed by motherhood. To rebut claims that Stella ought to have simply dressed-down or, as postmodern jargon has it, "gone with flow, "misses the point of tragedy being inherent in a protagonist whose flaws are the stuff of her undoing, I point out that Stella's care for her daughter is one aspect of her complex character - of woman as mother, and that her prole tastes - of woman as a person - are another such aspect: Stella can't be, or behave as, neither one, nor the other, but only as both, as a whole, person who is, like each of us, a tangle of contradictions in which she's snared for...life. It doesn't matter that the 1937 frame of reference here is "classist," because in every age there are standards by which people live; nowadays, for example, 'Stella Dallas' could be remade with Stella as a Gretchen Wilson redneck woman who weds a left-liberal snob into whose world she doesn't fit, or perhaps as a Lesbian-in-denial who marries because she hopes the incidents of marriage might keep her from losing her family's approval.Stanwyck's performance here is nonpareil - how she missed an Oscar for this work strikes me dumb. Most reviewers praise Stanwyck for Stella's obvious heart-tugging scenes - the Pullman sleeper and the wedding climax; but I think Stanwyck also showed her chops in scenes in which she had to vamp it up in tacky clothes and excessive makeup - not an easy feat to carry off, to show that Stella is multidimensional, that she's devoted to mothering at the same time as she cannot be anyone but the lowbrow woman she was and is and will always be.King Vidor's direction is masterful and the black & white photography, and the art direction, costuming and every other contribution of the studio system's artists working at their collaborative zenith, embody the perfectionism of film-making in 1937. The supporting cast is uniformly good, but the young Miss Shirley as Laurel and the dependable Alan Hale as Ed Munn stand out from among the others just as much as they needed to and not a jot more. Indeed this is another of those "they don't make 'em like this anymore" films to be enjoyed and treasured.
Barbara Stanwyck delivers, without exaggeration, one of the best performances I have ever seen in a movie in this gut-wrencher from 1937.She plays the slovenly title character, ex-wife of a privileged and wealthy man, who decides to sacrifice her relationship with her own daughter (Anne Shirley) so that the daughter can have a better life. This material could have been maudlin to the point of dreadful if handled differently, but Stanwyck and director King Vidor deliver the goods without letting them soak first in sentimentality, and the result is a five-hankie movie. I'd already seen the final and famous scene, and so thought it wouldn't have the impact on me it might otherwise have, but I was wrong. I was a mess.I used to think that Irene Dunne deserved the Best Actress Oscar in that year's race for her performance in "The Awful Truth," but wonderful as that performance still is, Stanwyck should have had it in the bag (though neither won; the award that year went to Luise Rainer in "The Good Earth.") Shirley was also Oscar-nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category."Stella Dallas" would make a great double feature with another 1937 release, "Make Way for Tomorrow." There's something about the themes and tone of the former that kept making me think of the latter, and they both made me feel the same way. Of course after that double feature you'd also have to reserve some time to be utterly inconsolable for a day or two.Grade: A
Stella Dallas is probably one of the most complex roles in a soap opera for any female actress to play. She's loud, brassy, and vulgar. She also knows that she desperately wants some kind of class. Her problem is that she thinks she can marry it and her problems are solved.For Barbara Stanwyck as Stella Martin that was only the beginning when she married Stephen Dallas played by John Boles. They come from different worlds, Stanwyck and Boles, and even with the birth of a daughter it doesn't bring them together.Samuel Goldwyn had great success with the silent version of Stella Dallas, it was his biggest moneymaker as a silent film. Goldwyn waited until he found the right actress for Stella before doing it again. Though he wanted Ruth Chatterton to play Stella, he was more than pleased with Barbara Stanwyck's Oscar nominated performance. Stanwyck hits Stella on every level just right, especially when she realizes after overhearing some women on a train talking about how vulgar she is and realizing what harm she was doing to her now grown up daughter played by Anne Shirley. Stanwyck makes the ultimate sacrifice for a mother and tears at the audience's hearts.Two other performances I liked in Stella Dallas. One was Barbara O'Neil as Mrs. Morrison the widow who became John Boles's second wife. Her scene with Stanwyck as Stanwyck tells her to take Shirley off her hands is a classic. Barbara O'Neil was gracious and charming, and exhibits a discerning heart. This would have been her career role had she not also played Scarlett O'Hara's mother in Gone With the Wind.The other performance is from that scene stealer Alan Hale as the good time salesman who Stanwyck takes up with. He's as vulgar as she is, but he also is not a bad person, just not anyone's ideal husband. Still they're as suited for each other as Boles and Stanwyck were not.I guess the moral of the Stella Dallas story is that romance is not like water, it does not seek its own level. Maybe it should however.
I love this movie and have seen it time and time again. This doesn't have the control and grace of a Douglas Sirk melodrama (and it is certainly earlier than Sirk), but this movie still has "stacks of style" as Stella herself would say. Extremely well set up story even if it is a bit far-fetched in places. Barbara Stanwyck is, well... pretty much unbeatable. She is one of the few actresses who can walk that tightrope between trashy and classy and make the two not feel mutually exclusive. As much as her character is overblown or enlarged from reality, this role is one that is a good deal more complex than most. Stanwyck was not an actress who felt she had to play everything for sympathy with the result that the moments when you feel bad for her hit you even harder than you expected. The birthday party scene is triumphantly painful and not to be missed. Anne Shirley ,who plays Laurel Dallas, Stella's daughter, I would bet will be overly sweet for a lot of viewers (myself included) but her manufactured sweetness only brings the complexity of Stella herself to the fore. This film never really misses a beat. It knows what it wants to do and it does it as unapologetically as Stella would.