#106 Stella Dallas (1937)

This next film on the list tackles subjects that would seem outdated today but meant a significant deal back in the 20s and 30s. King Vidor is back for the third time with this melodrama deals with themes such as social class and divorce. Stella Dallas is when a social climber marries a rich man and prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice for her daughter to ensure she gets all of life’s opportunities. 

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This film was based on Olive Higgins Prouty’s novel inspired by listening to a conversation during a party of a man marrying a woman of low, had a daughter together, got separated, and only sees his daughter once a month. There are a lot of films on this list that show tragic mother/daughter relationships in future films on this list such as Mildred Pierce (1945) and The Imitation of Life (1959). No one ever said being a mother was easy as well as being a daughter. It’s the stress of trying to be what the other wants us to be. In Stella Dallas, Stella marries a mill executive so that she can live in high society. She wants to fit into this glamorous world but refuses to change her style and odd behavior to please. This pulls her away from her husband who considers her an embarrassment. Stella wants her daughter to succeed and feels like her reputation will stop her from achieving that. Barbara Stanwyck, who plays Stella, almost didn’t get the part because producer Samuel Goldwyn felt like she had no experience as a mother, no sex appeal, and too young for the part. Against her will, she submitted to a screen test which she hadn’t done since early in her career and won Goldwyn over after. Do you think that Stella made the right choice at the end of the movie?

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Remakes have attempted to be done but failed, of course, because these issues of class and separation are pretty outdated and not considered such a big deal anymore. Do you agree with that? How did you feel about the remake starring Bette Midler in 1990? Stanwyck was nominated for Best Actress but lost to Luise Rainer in The Good Earth. She would say that out of all of the films she was nominated for, Stella Dallas was the film that got away. If there was anything that Vidor was not going to tolerate, it was the hysterics from eighteen year-old Anne Shirley who played Laurel because she felt like she did not get enough direction and ought to be replaced. Talk about drama! What would you have done in King Vidor’s shoes? I loved the ending scene in how it was shot where you see a close-up of Stella’s face as she watched her daughter get married. It’s a scene with no dialogue necessary. We see the words in Stanwyck’s eyes and feel the bittersweet emotion from that scene. Stellas Dallas is a good character study film in how sacrifice can be both sad but yet beautiful too.

Here is King Vidor’s social melodrama Stella Dallas and please comment your responses below:

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#105 La Grande Illusion (1937)

We have seen war films such as All Quiet on the Western Front that showed us the perils of war. This is another powerful film about the First World War that Woody Allen considered one of the finest movies that he ever saw. Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion is when three French officers are detained in a German prisoner of war camp during World War I and attempt to plot their escape.

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For a war film, we do not see any battle scenes or any gory scenes of violence. That was not Jean Renoir’s intention. He wanted to show that the men who were involved in this war were all human beings. We got to know these characters. The characters of de Boeldieu and von Rauffenstein were aristocrats who shared the same beliefs and experiences. They both believed that being a part of the war was a duty and that the war was there for a good reason- to end all wars. They also learn later how position does not really matter when a war occurs because in war, there are no rules. This film does a great job establishing that. Considering Renoir’s father was artist Auguste Renoir, of course there were beautiful exterior scenes and long takes to make the film look as realistic as possible. It makes us question the act of enlisting. Did you believe that it was right for Maréchal and Rosenthal to want to go back to fight in the war or were they just crazy? What would be the main reason to risk your lives for your country? 

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Unfortunately, I could not find a copy online but you can rent the film on Amazon for $3.99. Here is the trailer for this politically charged film and write in your thoughts:

 

#104 Make Way For Tomorrow (1937)

Are you close with your parents or do they just plain drive you crazy? Well, after seeing this film, you’ll feel guilty enough to want to give your parents a great big hug, call them everyday, and never want to move out. Make Way For Tomorrow is when an elderly couple whose house is being foreclosed take desperate measures to ensure their survival during The Great Depression– even if it means asking their grownup kids to move in with them.

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The Great Depression was a terrible time for everyone of that era. Jobs were gone, businesses went down, and lives were destroyed. Bark and Lucy experience that hardship in this film when their house is taken away because of a bank foreclosure. They have nowhere to go except to live with their kids who have spouses, careers, and kids of their own. Despite the fact that all of these kids have big houses, they claim there is no room for their parents to stay with them. They feel like burden to them. It is interesting how the tables turn where parents will go out of their way and work hard to ensure that their kids survive in the cruel world by helping them get into college. Those kids were taken care of. But when their parents ask for the same treatment, it cannot be done. It starts off with moaning and groaning to end with plans behind their backs of nursing homes and being switched off sibling after sibling. Sad to say, this situation will hit home whether it’s now or later.

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So why did revolutionary filmmaker Orson Welles say that this film would “make a stone cry?” Well, because this movie makes us look twice at how we can take our parents for granted. That they take care of us from birth until adulthood. Then there’s a time when we need to take care of our parents and we can’t find it in our hearts to repay to them the opportunities they gave to us. If their kids don’t help this elderly couple that the audience has felt sympathy over, they will have to be separated so that Bart could find work. Do you feel like Bart and Lucy’s children were monsters or did you agree in the choices they made? I feel like the situation could go either way. We can understand the frustration of having to take care of our parents but we should try to help them anyways after all they did for us. I personally have seen relatives refuse to take care of family because they are too busy taking care of their own lives than to have to deal with the burden of taking care of someone else. It may be a personal choice on what the right thing to do is but to audiences who are looking at this from a third party perspective, we cannot help but root for their children to help their own parents.

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Having elderly parents is something that people today have and this film portrays the real-life responsibility that kids have to go through to take care of them. This is an underrated film that I feel honored to blog about. Director Leo McCarey would win the Oscar for Best Picture for The Awful Truth but he said that he won for the wrong film. He made this film in honor of his own father who passed away and the people of his parent’s generation. This film hits the heart strings of its own crew that people in props, cameramen, grips, and extra wrote long-delayed letters to their parents. Once you seeing the emotional wreck of an ending, you’ll feel compelled to do the same. Something tells me that if this film was made today, it would be a comedy about parents moving in with their kids and wreaking havoc on their lives. But this is a drama that is so true to life that everyone should see to further appreciate the sacrifices parents have made and to return the favor to your parents one day. So after you see this film, do what J.K. Simmons said at the 87th Oscars Ceremony and give your parents a call to just simply tell them you love them even if they know it already.  

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the film online but here is the trailer for this social realism film and comment on your thoughts: