Stella Dallas (1937)
One of the Best Movie Performances I've Ever Seen
15 October 2015
Barbara Stanwyck delivers, without exaggeration, one of the best performances I have ever seen in a movie in this gut-wrencher from 1937.

She plays the slovenly title character, ex-wife of a privileged and wealthy man, who decides to sacrifice her relationship with her own daughter (Anne Shirley) so that the daughter can have a better life. This material could have been maudlin to the point of dreadful if handled differently, but Stanwyck and director King Vidor deliver the goods without letting them soak first in sentimentality, and the result is a five-hankie movie. I'd already seen the final and famous scene, and so thought it wouldn't have the impact on me it might otherwise have, but I was wrong. I was a mess.

I used to think that Irene Dunne deserved the Best Actress Oscar in that year's race for her performance in "The Awful Truth," but wonderful as that performance still is, Stanwyck should have had it in the bag (though neither won; the award that year went to Luise Rainer in "The Good Earth.") Shirley was also Oscar-nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category.

"Stella Dallas" would make a great double feature with another 1937 release, "Make Way for Tomorrow." There's something about the themes and tone of the former that kept making me think of the latter, and they both made me feel the same way. Of course after that double feature you'd also have to reserve some time to be utterly inconsolable for a day or two.

Grade: A
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