#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This next film on the list tackles subjects that would seem outdated today but meant a significant deal back in the 20s and 30s.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Remakes have attempted to be done but failed, of course, because these issues of class and separation are pretty outdated and not considered such a big deal anymore.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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