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)
“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.“
Reviewed 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.
In 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.
Years 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 undetected.
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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