Top positive review
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Stanwyck Rises Above the Suds
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.