|STELLA DALLAS (director: King Vidor; screenwriters: Sarah Y. Mason/Victor Heerman/from the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty; cinematographer: Rudolph Maté; editor: Sherman Todd; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Stella Dallas), John Boles (Stephen Dallas), Anne Shirley (Laurel Dallas), Barbara O'Neil (Helen Morrison), Alan Hale (Ed Munn), Marjorie Main (Mrs. Martin), George Walcott (Charlie Martin), Ann Shoemaker (Margaret Phillibrown), Tim Holt (Richard Grosvenor), Olin Howard (Factory Clerk); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel Goldwyn/Merritt Hulburd; Warner Home Video (United Artists); 1937)|
Stanwyck gives a sensational brassy
performance as the ambitious poor girl trying
to make a better life for herself by marrying
above her class."
by Dennis Schwartz
A classic "women's picture" skilfully directed as a tearjerker by King Vidor ("War and Peace"/"Man Without A Star"/"Ruby Gentry"). It's a superior remake of Henry King's silent version of 1925. Writers Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman base it on the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty. Barbara Stanwyck gives a sensational brassy performance as the ambitious poor girl trying to make a better life for herself by marrying above her class.
1919, Stella Martin (Barbara Stanwyck), the uncouth
but attractive young daughter of a mill worker in the
factory town of Millwood, Massachusetts, has the hots
for a small-time factory executive, Stephen Dallas (John
Boles), whose family lost their wealth and
prestige. Stella learns that Stephen has broken off
his engagement with the upper-crust Helen Morrison (Barbara
O'Neil) because he's uptight about his lowly
position and lack of money, figuring the woman he
loves deserves better. Meanwhile Stella schemes to
meet Stephen and when she does he's attracted to her.
Disregarding class differences, they marry and soon
have a daughter Laurel (Anne Shirley).
Stella soon becomes bored with her routine domestic life to her unexciting businessman hubby, who becomes a workaholic in the hope of regaining his wealth and self-respect. The couple grow apart and separate when Stella reverts to her old party-going ways. Stephen allows Stella to raise Laurel in Milltown and he moves to New York.
later when Laurel is grown, the now prosperous Stephen
meets the upper-class Helen in a New York department
store and learns she's a widow with three sons, and
they rekindle their former relationship. When Stephen
asks his wife for a divorce to marry Helen, the
spiteful Stella refuses. Fearing she will lose her
sweet daughter to the more posh and cultured couple,
Stella asks Stephen for more money. Later, at a resort
with Laurel, Stella shames her daughter by acting
crude and dressing in garish home made clothes that
Laurel's rich friends disdainfully comment on. Since
Stella loves her daughter and doesn't want to stand in
the way of her happiness, she grants hubby the divorce
and allows Stella to be raised by them. After a few
years, Stella reads in the newspaper that Laurel is to
marry the wealthy society man Richard
Grosvenor, III (Tim Holt) in her
dad's New York home, and rather than intrude on the
ceremony watches secretly the high society wedding
from the outside window in the rain before departing
The pic had a certain appeal in the 1930s, reflecting on a mother's sacrifices and the wide divisions between classes. In today's world, the story has some legs but the way it was presented back then has become outdated. But through the efforts of a good director and a fine actress, they keep the melodrama from sinking completely to the level of a soap opera.
REVIEWED ON 10/12/2014 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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