on July 8, 2000
Sure, the script is 99.44% pure soap opera, and no, it hasn't aged particularly well. But "Stella Dallas" remains watchable thanks to the tour de force performance given by Barbara Stanwyck in the title role. Encumbered by some overly sentimental dialogue and weighed down by poor costuming choices that threaten to make her character seem ludicrous rather than pathetic or garish, Stanwyck overcomes all obstacles by investing her every scene with a disarming sincerity and heartfelt honesty. She rises far above the script; indeed, some of her finest moments are those in which she says not a word (her painful self-realization in the train berth; her barely controlled suffering as she deliberately goads her daughter into rejecting her; and of course, the famous ending shot in which she strides triumphantly into the night). Stanwyck is beautifully abetted by Anne Shirley in an Oscar-nominated supporting performance, and Alan Hale and Barbara O'Neil also shine. But this is Stanwyck's movie all the way, and she alone holds it together and makes it work.
The DVD transfer is far from perfect. There is a lot of "video noise" throughout the movie, and the contrast often seems lacking. There is no theatrical trailer or stills gallery; the only bonus is a cast and crew filmography that is prone to error and omissions: Stanwyck was NOT Oscar-nominated for "The Lady Eve" in 1941 as indicated; her four Best Actress races were in 1937 ("Stella Dallas"), 1941 ("Ball of Fire"), 1944 ("Double Indemnity"), and 1948 ("Sorry, Wrong Number"). Still, this DVD is an improvement over the VHS release, and a must-have for fans of the incomparable Stanwyck.
on February 5, 2006
I read a magazine article once where the writer said Stanwyck was not an actress with the range of Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn. With all due respect to Davis and Hepburn, Stanwyck could act rings around them. She was far more versatile than either of them (playing villainesses, comedy, drama and musicals with equal finesse) and was never hammy as Bette Davis was with her popping eyes, neck wringing and clipped speech or mannered as Katharine Hepburn was with her high patrician attitude and twittering, voice. Stella Dallas simply attests to this fact. There are so many facets to Stanwyck's portrayal and so many memorable scenes that rival the best any actress in Hollywood had to offer. 1) The scene on the train with Anne Shirley where she pretends to be asleep after overhearing her daughter's friends degrade Stella, 2) the farewell at the train station where she send Laurel (Anne Shirley) to her father), 3) the scene at the Mirador Hotel where she steps out in bangles and beads and a loud dress and she is mimicked by some young boys (that ain't a woman, that's a Christmas tree), 4) the scene where Stella is attempting to get rid of Ed Munn with a plucked turkey stuffed in the oven, 5) the birthday party scene with Laurel where nobody comes, 6) the scene where she pretends she doesn't love Laurel and tells her she wants to marry Ed Munn, 7) the scene where she sacrifices Laurel to Stephen Dallas' new wife (played by Barbara O'Neil) and last but not least, the now classic scene where she watches Laurel's wedding outside in the rain and emerges triumphant knowing that Laurel will have the life she never could. Top all of this with a great supporting cast, an excellent script and an unforgettable musical score and you have Stanwyck's best movie and Hollywood magic of 1937!
on September 5, 2002
Tearjerker supreme, with a top-notch performance by Barbara Stanwyck, who impersonates and gives true life to coarse, low class, self-effacing Stella Dallas, "mother above all". This is one of the greatest and strongest dramatic performances ever achieved on the screen by an American actress.
Stanwyck plays an ambitious girl of humble origins, who falls in love and marries recently impoverished aristocratic Boles (Stephen Dallas), whose social differences eventually separate them. She raises their little child, Laurel, suffering, crying and sacrificing herself for her daughter's sake, from then onwards.
John Boles is quite effective, but, as usual, lacks punch as Stephen Dallas. On the other hand, Anne Shirley is believable and very good as grown-up Laurel. Alan Hale is simply incredible and the epitome of vulgarity, as lowbrow and ever-partying Ed Munn; and Barbara O'Neil (future Scarlett O'Hara's mother) is rightly patrician, well-bred and classy, as Boles' old-time fiancée and friend.
In spite of its 30's ultrasentimentality by today's standards, absolutely recommended viewing. The DVD quality is good indeed.
on July 11, 1998
My grandmother remembered seeing this movie when it originally came out in 1937. When I started getting into Barbara Stanwyck, about a year ago, she recalled this film as being the only film she ever cried at when she was younger. Mind you that the main form of entertainment during the 30s and 40s were movies, and she saw MANY! So, to be nice, I went out and purchased a copy of the movie, and surprised her one day and we watched it. The year was 1997. She still cried. 60 YEARS LATER, the same movie she remembered as the only movie she ever cried at when she was younger, still got her the same way. Just a few weeks ago, we watched it again. Again, tears welled up in her eyes. This just goes to show the power of a brilliantly made, brilliantly acted film. And "Stella Dallas" combines both beautiful production and wonderful acting to produce one of THE BEST tear-jerkers ever made. Barbara Stanwyck as a mother who sacrifices everything for her only daughter (Anne Shirley), was nominated for an Oscar, and rightfully so! The scenes are classic, especially the final one, which I won't give away. This is a MUST SEE film..."Stella Dallas" will not disappoint you... END
on December 13, 2013
The 1937 sound remake of STELLA DALLAS is a fine movie with top credentials beginning with star Barbara Stanwyck and director King Vidor. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn's boutique film studio, everything about this production is first class. The image quality is clean with no dust or speckling, and the soundtrack is clear and crisp. Given the bargain price we have nothing to complain about although we are rapidly becoming spoiled by vintage films released on Blu-ray. You'll never mistake this edition of STELLA DALLAS with a Blu-ray version (none so far) but this DVD is good enough on its own terms.
There is one bonus feature that really persuaded me to buy this DVD: the 1925 original silent version starring Ronald Colman, Alice Joyce, Belle Bennett, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Lois Moran, and Jean Hersholt. There is no musical accompaniment with this silent - a cardinal sin when showing silent films - but more disappointing is the 16mm soft image quality of the print. We know that 35mm prints exist and since this DVD is an official studio release from Goldwyn (via Warners) there is really no excuse for this sloppy, blah-looking bonus. The usual culprit is that nobody on the production end really cared enough to do this right - I suspect that Sam Goldwyn is spinning in his grave with the shoddy treatment his own company has given the DVD release of an important silent film classic.
on January 3, 2014
King Vidor (The Big Parade) wasn't the most innovative or stylish director of his era, but nobody of the time was more trusted to deliver a straightforward adaptation of a work with good performances and first-rate production values and there may be no clearer example of that than his version of Stella Dallas. This second version of Olive Higgins Prouty's 1924 novel is solid on every level. The plot spans decades, but Vidor weaves it together nicely. The story moves very well and feels natural without ever seeming forced.
With all the massively heavy emotions, that seems like a tall task, but it all comes down to the brilliant and heartbreaking performance of Barbara Stanwyck. The Stella Dallas character could easily be played as a simpering martyr, but Stanwyck plays her with supreme dignity and strength. She has to play a woman through the decades, from a youth to a broken older woman and does it all with her incredible skill and grace. She has to carry every piece of the movie and is simply brilliant in the part.
Her performance is interesting, as well, because the type of character she plays, the social climber, was generally looked at in a negative light. Instead of being the dirty poor who steals the love of a good rich man, only to ruin his life. All that same stuff happens in Stella Dallas, but Stanwyck plays it so sympathetically that none of those connotations ever come into play. The final third of the film is one heartbreak after another, driving me increasingly toward tears until the genuinely crushing finish that still resonates all these decades later.
But Stanwyck isn't acting alone. Her performance may be one of the best of her or any career, but she's bolstered by a very good supporting cast. It's tough to match Stanwyck's power, but the lovely Anne Shirley does admirable work as Laurel, her daughter. All the emotion of the Stella character forces Shirley to do some pretty hard work of her own and she's more than up to the task. John Boles, as Stephen Dallas, doesn't have a whole lot to do, but is adequate for the role, and in the role most rare during this era of cinema, Alan Hale plays the creepy Ed Munn, whose drunkenness could easily just be played for straight comedy, but is a secret villain. The only way we know this is Laurel's reaction to Stella putting his picture up; it's so full of palpable revulsion that there's no doubt of some darkness below the surface. These extraordinary performances make the movie brilliant to watch and are as good today as they were in 1937.
Stella Dallas comes to DVD from Warner Bros in a decent release. The 1.33:1 image fares quite well; it has strong contrast and almost no dirt or dust to be found on the print. Black and while levels are solid and, while there are a couple of scenes are a little softer than the rest, it's a mostly consistent image. The sound fares pretty well, too, with a clean mono mix. The dialog and music are clear and there's little to no hissing or pops in the mix.
There's only one extra on the disc and, though it's not the one that the box advertises, it's very good. The package claims that the disc contains a vintage featurette about the movie. I wasn't looking forward to it and, thankfully, it isn't there. In its place, however, is the complete 1925 silent version of Stella Dallas starring Belle Bennett (The Iron Mask) and directed by Henry King (Carousel). It's not as strong a film as the 1937 version, but it's still pretty good and the character of Ed Munn is even creepier here than in the later version. The only downside is that it does not come with a musical score, so you'll have to provide your own accompaniment. That's a small price to pay, though, for such a valuable supplement.
- Daryl Loomis, DVD VERDICT
Read the full review, and others, at dvdverdict.com
on December 8, 2000
"Stella Dallas" is an extraordinary emotional rollercoaster of a movie, and a must-see for fans of the legendary Barbara Stanwyck. Stanwyck is Stella Martin, a tough cookie mill girl who steps up in class by marrying the wealthy Stephen Dallas (John Boles). They have a daughter, Laurel (Anne Shirley), whom Stella lavishes love on. But although Stella has a heart of gold, her coarse manners and unrefined taste are looked down upon by society. Stella won't have her daughter looked down on, too, and in securing her daughter's future happiness, Stella realizes that she must make a sacrifice greater than any she could ever make...
Stanwyck walks off with the picture, absolutely perfect as Stella (Stanwyck, I believe, REALLY should have won the Oscar she was nominated for for this film). Anne Shirley is just a tad overly enthusiastic as Laurel, but she is also sincere and honest in her Oscar-nominated performance. John Boles is- fair in his relatively small role. Barbara O'Neil is excellent as Helen Morrison, a kind-hearted friend of Stephen Dallas. Alan Hale is perfectly vulgar in his meaty role of Ed Munn, a coarse friend of Stella's.
The film has a sensitive but wrenching screenplay which calls for handkerchiefs in many scenes: (One scene has Stella and Laurel waiting for children to come to Laurel's birthday party who never come because of Stella's notoriety, a scene in which Stella overhears Laurel's friends talking about her with snide remarks, and the final, heartbreaking scene...) King Vidor's direction rounds out the exquisite drama and makes "Stella Dallas" one of the most powerful dramatic masterpieces of all time.
on October 24, 2015
A really great film. There is even a greater film included at no cost accessible via special features. It is the 1925 pre-talkie version. I had watched the 1937 version and was going back to see it a third time (yes, it is that good) and was first going to check out special features to see what was there....and there was the 1925 silent film version...hmmmm.....I hesitated momentarily then thought I would take a peek, although I have not seen any silent films since the 50's. I was amazed and blown away by that version as it seemed to pack three times the emotional wallop of the later version. Then a few days later I again saw the 1937 version to make a final comparison. I'll just say this: the 1925 film is one of the greatest films I have ever seen. The directing, acting and every cast member except for the Stella character were infinitely better than the later remake. There is a remarkable level of humanity and depth portrayed by the script and superb acting of the 1925 release. It is hard for me to reconcile the quality disparity between the two films but there is really no comparison. How could the earlier version communicate so much more with so little (no dialogue)? ???? If you have this DVD already and have not bothered to watch the 1925 original, I recommend you do so.
It is quite telling that Frank Borzage and King Vidor, two film pioneers who both began in the silent art form of film, were quite successful in the transition to sound. And perhaps because of their origins, brought a sensitivity to sentimental dramas better than anyone else in Hollywood. In other hands, Stella Dallas might have been a maudlin soaper, but with Vidor at the helm, and Barbara Stanwyck in front of Rudolph Mate's camera lens, Stella Dallas is a memorable drama of a mother's love for her daughter.
Samuel Goldwyn had a long association with King Vidor and this is one of their finest collaborations as producer and director. The novel by Olive Higgins Prouty and adaptation by Sarah Y Mason and Victor Heerman had sudser written all over it. Yet sensitive direction, a wonderful score by Alfred E. Newman, and sparkling performances from Stanwyck and Anne Shirley turn this into a screen classic; albeit a dated one. There is more to this film than just Stanwyck and Shirley, however, and the story within the story sometimes gets lost when this film is talked about.
Stella (Barbara Stanwyck) is young and full of ambition to rise above her mill worker life. It is 1919 as her story begins to unfold, Stella pining for Stephen Dallas (John Boles), who missed his chance at happiness with a society girl when his father went broke. Stella is sweet, and keeps herself in front of him until he notices. It isn't long before they are married, and Stella gets a taste of the nicer life and respectability she desires. Her other side of the tracks upbringing, however, keeps getting in the way. Vidor does a wonderful job of straddling the fence as regards Stella; showing her as both garish and sweet. But she is a clay her husband wants to mold into something she is not, rather than loving her for what she is. Vidor shows that as much as Stella's behavior can be blamed for the couple's problems, so can Stephen's refusal to loosen up and be proud of his wife.
Not long after a beautiful baby enters their lives, Stella finds a pal in Ed (Alan Hale), whose good heart but lurid behavior at least doesn't make her feel ashamed of herself. Both Vidor and Stanwyck make no excuses for Stella's behavior, yet in doing so, show the deeper truth that had Stephen loved her for who she was, things might have been different. Separated and raising her Laurel (Anne Shirley) alone while Stephen falls in love all over again with Helen Morrison (Barbara O'Neil), and sees the life he actually wanted, Stella stays married, perhaps hoping that one day he will come back and love her for who she is. Stanwyck is marvelous in a scene where he comes to visit Laurel at Christmas and for a moment her hope burns bright, then fades like fingers putting out the flame from a candle.
After the inevitable divorce occurs, Stella makes every sacrifice for her daughter, trying to give her refined Laurel all the society trappings she deserves. But a moment on a train where Stella overhears Laurel's friends talking, sets in motion a heartbreaking sacrifice for both Stella and Laurel. Barbara O'Neil is quite marvelous in what could have been an unsympathetic role. She makes Helen a kind woman who Laurel cares for and is good for Stephen. And she is also kind and understanding in regards to Stella. She is no home-wrecker, only a woman caught in a terribly difficult situation. Stanwyck is stellar here, making you dislike her one moment, and love her the next. The love she has for her daughter is shown in all the dresses she makes for her by hand; all copies of society fashions.
Often lost in the hoopla over the subject matter and Stanwyck's performance is the equally tremendous job turned in by Anne Shirley in the role of Lolly (Laurel). She is radiant as a young woman full of refinement and happiness but basking in her mother's devotion to her. Her romantic moments with Richard (Tim Holt) and heartbreak which follows show the contrast between the world Stella wants for her and where she belongs, and the reality of being Stella's daughter among the blue bloods. Laurel knows her mother needs her, however, just as she needed her mother growing up, so Stella's first attempt at sacrifice fails. What follows is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, and a rich and mature look at what it is to be a parent and let go at the right time.
This film rises above a mere soaper, giving a rich and even mature look at how imperfect people can create something wonderful, even at their own expense. A sentimental film classic.
on May 19, 2004
As other reviewers have said, "Stella Dallas" is a highly sentimental, soap-operaish 1930s movie. But it's still a good film, despite that fact that many aspects of the plot and characterization are dated.
Barbara Stanwyck is the gem of this film, and she gives the most convincing performance (except for Alan Hale, her drunken friend, Ed). The movie begins with Stella, a girl from a working-class mill family, who dreams of marriage to Stephen Dallas, a well-to-do mill executive. With all the charm she can muster, Stella walks into Stephen's office at a crucial point in his life: he is in despair. She revives him, and the two are married within two weeks. What follows is rather predictable: the marriage was a mistake. Stephen's upper class society of manners and Stella's burning desire to experience the passion and wealth of life are sorely incompatible. After the birth of their daughter, Laurel, they part ways: he lives in New York, and she stays in Boston with their daughter. However, they do not divorce for nearly 15 years. Stella raises Laurel, and Stephen takes the child on vacations often. As Laurel grows older, it is obvious that her intellect and mannerisms mirror her father, and not her working-class, garish mother. Despite the fact that Laurel is essentially the only person or thing that Stella loves, Stella contrives a plot to deceive Laurel so that the teenage girl will willingly go live with her father, his new, beautiful, wealthy wife, and her three sons in a New York mansion.
Stanwyck's acting is superb, one of the best in her career. She convincingly portrays a woman who is trapped in her lower-class social status, but desperately reaches for money and associations with the "right people." Anne Shirley, who plays Laurel in her teen years, seems to overact at times, but she delivers a top-notch performance as an innocent, wholesome teen torn between her separated parents. John Boles' performance is stiff and restrained, as usual, and his character is very flat (but it's supposed to be). Barbara O'Neil earns the audience's respect as the only person who genuinely understands Stella. And Alan Hale is brilliant as the crass, drunken, party-animal Ed Munn, and Stella simply can't resist his zest for life (at least initially).
Although the film is encumbered with overly sentimental dialogue and a bit of overacting, it's a pretty good 1930s melodrama.