Wednesday, February 17, 2010

107. Stella Dallas (1937)

Running Time: 106 minutes
Directed By: King Vidor
Written By: Joe Bigelow, Harry Wagstaff Gribble, Sarah Y. Mason, Gertrude Purcell, Victor Heerman, from novel by Olive Higgins Prouty
Main Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, John Boles, Anne Shirley, Barbara O'Neil, Alan Hale


Well the "short wait" finally ended and "Stella Dallas" was shipped and arrived today, giving me a chance to finally watch it and finally get a review slapped in here. The movie was actually quite good, as most of the unfound movies, coincidentally seem to be, as King Vidor impresses me, yet again.

Stella Dallas (Stanwyck) lives in a Massachusetts factory town with her brother and parents. She lives a fairly simple life, cooking and cleaning and helping to tend the house. She also has quite a time swooning over Mr. Stephen Dallas (Boles), one of the managers at the factory, where her brother and father work. Stephen, at one time, was set to be engaged to Helen Morrison, but when his father committed suicide, Stephen disappeared and relocated, leaving Helen in the dust. One day, when Stella takes lunch to her brother at work, she makes a special point to swing by Stephen's office and strut her stuff. Stella, looking ever so radiant, accomplishes her mission and gets more than a head turn from the shy, considerate Stephen. They hit it off, a few weeks pass, with Stephen courting Stella, until finally one day Stella arrives back at the house with a ring on her finger and news that her and Stephen have been married.

A year passes and the Dallases welcome their first child, a baby girl, whom they name Laurel. When Stella is released from the hospital, after giving birth, she wants nothing more than to go out for a night on the town, despite her husbands urges for her to rest. They go out and Stella takes up dancing with a loud mouth, obnoxious fellow by the name of Ed Munn (Hale). Stephen, being the kind, gentle person that he is, never lacks at delivering politeness, even to the inconsiderate Munn. When a job opportunity arises in New York, Stephen jumps at the chance to take it and wants nothing more than to relocate with his entire family in tact. However, Stella doesn't wish to relocate and thus the Dallases separate, leaving Laurel in the care of her mother, and visiting her father on the weekends. Eventually Laurel grows up, Stephen reconnects with his old flame Helen and Laurel becomes the focal point of the picture, being forced to choose between a swanky lifestyle in New York with her father and Helen or her normal downtrodden lifestyle with her mother, who she's always been with.

King Vidor was excellent at turning everyday situations into brilliant, heartbreaking films. He had a knack for evoking emotions and really playing his characters to their fullest potential. In the span of this movie I went from hating Stella, to feeling sorry for her and all of the emotions in between. The scene at Christmas, when Stephen takes Laurel and Stella is left to spend the holidays by herself is so sad and the end is also heartbreaking. All of the principles turn in marvelous performances, and including Stanwyck, I also really enjoyed the innocent girl that Anne Shirley played, as she was spot on with her delivery and was just a very charming little actress. Boles and Hale were also great male leads, with Boles playing the cool, shy, gentle Stephen and Hale really turning it in as the fool, Ed Munn. All in all this was a great film and I had a very enjoyable time with it.

RATING: 7.5/10 What can I say, I'm a sucker for simple storytelling that is told to the fullest advantage and this is a prime example.

NEXT UP: The Life of Emile Zola...Paul Muni stars in the 1937 Best Picture winner and the review should be up sometime tomorrow.

February 17, 2010 2:30am
Revised: February 26, 2010 12:37am

1 comment:

  1. I've only just been able to catch up with this one.. Unobtainable in the UK, I eventually got (legal) 'pirate' copy off Ebay (Seems there is some lookhole that it is legal if the film hsn't been released in the country).
    I enjoyed it.. although I wondered where our sympathies were supposed to be. Stephen, as you say, at first so pleasant, and not bothering about Stella's working class backgound, seems to grow class aware, and seems to snub her friends.. And - the other side of the coin- Ed , now what is he supposed to be? The jolly, down to earth friend-to-all guy.. or the obnoxious, crude (and at times slighly creepy)looser who will wreck Stella and Laurel's life (all be it untintetionaly). Laurel - a good, honest keen to be good to her Mum daughter.. or at times - rather annoying in her attitude. Are we supposed to condem her for being embarresed (and denying her) by her lound, showy Mum at the country club? And Stella herself.. manipulative social climber, or self sacrificing mother?
    I lke that sort of ambiguity.. No one in life is pure good/bad, and I dislike films that try to tell us life is like that..
    Ok, so the end was rather sickly.. but, hey, look how old it is.. especialy the source material..
    Yes, round about the 7 or 8 mark is good by me.


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