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Eternal Theme Incomparably Played
Piafredux6 December 2005
Young reviewers seem to get so much wrong about 'Stella Dallas' in that they deprecate what they mistake to be its "classism" and snobbery - which in 1937 were, of course, powerful extant social realities and motivators for Depression audiences. It would be helpful if youngsters would see Stella and her husband as characters separated by what's known nowadays as "irreconcilable differences," and therein lies the basis for the eternal theme of Stella's sacrifice: this is tragedy incomparably played because, as Barbara Stanwyck shows us, tragedy is intrinsic in, and flows from, a protagonist's immutable flaws. Of course one allows for youngsters misapprehensions of 'Stella Dallas' because the young have always lived in an increasingly socially-levelled America in which, since World War II as Tom Wolfe acutely noted, "every man" is "an aristocrat" regardless of how outlandish or extreme his dress or behavior, or how low or high his occupation, is.

It's also true that many of this film's naysayers mistake Stella's chameleon-like adaptations in various milieux to be evidence of poor scriptwriting, or of "unevenness" in the concept and performance of the title role. Nothing could be more mistaken for, as is each of us, Stella is a complex character whose handling of changing situations adapts to each of those situations, while her personality remains true to itself and cannot be altered (her "personality" is acknowledged by Stella herself with that very word in the soda fountain scene). Yes, Stella wed in a bid to gain wealth and class. Yes, Stella went dancing and was attracted to an unsavory crowd on the night she brought her newborn daughter home. But when she returned home the look, communicated with gorgeous subtlety, on Stanwyck's face tells that Stella's outlook - but not her personality - is in that moment transformed by motherhood. To rebut claims that Stella ought to have simply dressed-down or, as postmodern jargon has it, "gone with flow, "misses the point of tragedy being inherent in a protagonist whose flaws are the stuff of her undoing, I point out that Stella's care for her daughter is one aspect of her complex character - of woman as mother, and that her prole tastes - of woman as a person - are another such aspect: Stella can't be, or behave as, neither one, nor the other, but only as both, as a whole, person who is, like each of us, a tangle of contradictions in which she's snared It doesn't matter that the 1937 frame of reference here is "classist," because in every age there are standards by which people live; nowadays, for example, 'Stella Dallas' could be remade with Stella as a Gretchen Wilson redneck woman who weds a left-liberal snob into whose world she doesn't fit, or perhaps as a Lesbian-in-denial who marries because she hopes the incidents of marriage might keep her from losing her family's approval.

Stanwyck's performance here is nonpareil - how she missed an Oscar for this work strikes me dumb. Most reviewers praise Stanwyck for Stella's obvious heart-tugging scenes - the Pullman sleeper and the wedding climax; but I think Stanwyck also showed her chops in scenes in which she had to vamp it up in tacky clothes and excessive makeup - not an easy feat to carry off, to show that Stella is multidimensional, that she's devoted to mothering at the same time as she cannot be anyone but the lowbrow woman she was and is and will always be.

King Vidor's direction is masterful and the black & white photography, and the art direction, costuming and every other contribution of the studio system's artists working at their collaborative zenith, embody the perfectionism of film-making in 1937. The supporting cast is uniformly good, but the young Miss Shirley as Laurel and the dependable Alan Hale as Ed Munn stand out from among the others just as much as they needed to and not a jot more. Indeed this is another of those "they don't make 'em like this anymore" films to be enjoyed and treasured.
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Not for the unsentimental
limshun14 July 2004
I love this movie and have seen it time and time again. This doesn't have the control and grace of a Douglas Sirk melodrama (and it is certainly earlier than Sirk), but this movie still has "stacks of style" as Stella herself would say. Extremely well set up story even if it is a bit far-fetched in places. Barbara Stanwyck is, well... pretty much unbeatable. She is one of the few actresses who can walk that tightrope between trashy and classy and make the two not feel mutually exclusive. As much as her character is overblown or enlarged from reality, this role is one that is a good deal more complex than most. Stanwyck was not an actress who felt she had to play everything for sympathy with the result that the moments when you feel bad for her hit you even harder than you expected. The birthday party scene is triumphantly painful and not to be missed. Anne Shirley ,who plays Laurel Dallas, Stella's daughter, I would bet will be overly sweet for a lot of viewers (myself included) but her manufactured sweetness only brings the complexity of Stella herself to the fore. This film never really misses a beat. It knows what it wants to do and it does it as unapologetically as Stella would.
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Four wet handkerchiefs
blanche-219 March 2011
Barbara Stanwyck is the self-sacrificing "Stella Dallas" in this 1937 film directed by King Vidor and also starring John Boles, Anne Shirley, Barbara O'Neill, and Alan Hale.

The lower-class Stella Martin sets her sights on a successful businessman from an upper-class family, Stephen Dallas. The two marry and have a daughter, Laurel, but over time it becomes apparent that the marriage just can't work. Stella's a girl who just wants to have fun; the stuffy life and staid clothing just aren't for her. Stephen goes to New York to work, leaving Stella and Laurel in Boston. They both adore the little girl. But as she grows up into the lovely Anne Shirley, Stella thinks her slatternly presence may be limiting her daughter's chances for happiness.

This film is a major tear-jerker with an absolutely wonderful performance by Barbara Stanwyck as a warm, outlandishly dressed, and loud woman who nevertheless is devoted to her daughter and wants only the best for her. Anne Shirley is sweet and loving as her daughter, Barbara O'Neill is excellent as Stephen's ex-girlfriend, now widowed, and John Boles gives a gentle performance as the kind Stephen.

"Stella Dallas" will make you cry, but you'll be glad you saw it.
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The Complexity of Mother Love
bkoganbing21 March 2007
Stella Dallas is probably one of the most complex roles in a soap opera for any female actress to play. She's loud, brassy, and vulgar. She also knows that she desperately wants some kind of class. Her problem is that she thinks she can marry it and her problems are solved.

For Barbara Stanwyck as Stella Martin that was only the beginning when she married Stephen Dallas played by John Boles. They come from different worlds, Stanwyck and Boles, and even with the birth of a daughter it doesn't bring them together.

Samuel Goldwyn had great success with the silent version of Stella Dallas, it was his biggest moneymaker as a silent film. Goldwyn waited until he found the right actress for Stella before doing it again.

Though he wanted Ruth Chatterton to play Stella, he was more than pleased with Barbara Stanwyck's Oscar nominated performance. Stanwyck hits Stella on every level just right, especially when she realizes after overhearing some women on a train talking about how vulgar she is and realizing what harm she was doing to her now grown up daughter played by Anne Shirley. Stanwyck makes the ultimate sacrifice for a mother and tears at the audience's hearts.

Two other performances I liked in Stella Dallas. One was Barbara O'Neil as Mrs. Morrison the widow who became John Boles's second wife. Her scene with Stanwyck as Stanwyck tells her to take Shirley off her hands is a classic. Barbara O'Neil was gracious and charming, and exhibits a discerning heart. This would have been her career role had she not also played Scarlett O'Hara's mother in Gone With the Wind.

The other performance is from that scene stealer Alan Hale as the good time salesman who Stanwyck takes up with. He's as vulgar as she is, but he also is not a bad person, just not anyone's ideal husband. Still they're as suited for each other as Boles and Stanwyck were not.

I guess the moral of the Stella Dallas story is that romance is not like water, it does not seek its own level. Maybe it should however.
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Some things were just never meant to be!
lee_eisenberg12 August 2005
In the '30s, musicals glorifying rich people dominated Hollywood; "Stella Dallas" turned that genre on its head. Stella Martin (Barbara Stanwyck) comes from the working class and is as unrefined as can be. She decides to get out of that life by marrying very wealthy Stephen Dallas (John Boles). They have a daughter, Laurel (Anne Shirley), but then Stella and Stephen begin to drift apart from each other. As Stella refuses to adapt to the rich lifestyle, she decides to sacrifice everything so that Laurel may live a better life.

Watching the movie, I can see why producer Samuel Goldwyn cried when he saw it. The top-notch acting from all the cast members, and the excellent use of cinematography, make this a movie meriting all forms of accolades. It is a perfect movie in every way, shape and form. Above all, it shows what a great actress Barbara Stanwyck was. Few movies have ever been as great as "Stella Dallas".
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Powerful Drama Guaranteed To Evoke Emotions
ccthemovieman-116 August 2006
Make no mistake: this is a soap opera, plain and simple. Normally, that turns me off but I didn't mind here because Barbara Stanwyck is just superb to watch. Playing the title role, she dominates the film, and that's fine with me. I usually find her an interesting woman who makes her characters come alive.

This is a powerful story, especially so, I would presume, if you are the mother of a teenage girl. Here, Anne Shirley plays Stanwyck's daughter. What "Stella" (Stanwyck) does at the end of the film makes for a great story but I doubt, frankly, if any mother could do that. The story is guaranteed to make some impact your emotions! I don't want to say more to spoil anything.

I enjoyed John Boles role in here and really, really liked Barbara O'Neil's character, "Helen Morrison Dallas." Personally, I couldn't watch this many times but if I think it has so much to offer that I readily understand those who would watch this over and over. It has a lot going for it.
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Dated Melodramatic Class Warfare
claudio_carvalho7 October 2013
In 1919, the ambitious Stella Martin (Barbara Stanwyck) lives with her working-class family and her father and her brother are workers in a mill in Massachusetts. Stella is decided to climb to the upper-class to party and she chases the mill executive Stephen Dallas (John Boles) to marry him. Soon her dream comes true and they have a daughter, Laurel. Stella has a vulgar behavior when she meets the horse gambler Ed Munn (Alan Hale) in a night-club bothering Stephen. When he is transferred to a better position in New York, she decides to stay in Massachusetts with her daughter.

Years later, Laurel (Anne Shirley) is a lovely teenager and Stella Dallas is a dedicated mother. When Stephen stumbles with his former fiancée Helen Morrison (Barbara O'Neil) is a department store, he asks Stella for a divorce to marry Helen but she refuses. Stella decides to travel with Laurel to an expensive resort and Laurel befriends wealthy teenagers. When the tacky Stella seeks out Laurel in the facility, the youngsters notes her vulgarity and Laurel decides to leave the resort without telling the truth to her mother. However she overhears the cruel comments about her in the train. Now Stella takes the ultimate sacrifice for the wellbeing of her beloved daughter.

"Stella Dallas" is a movie with melodramatic class warfare and top-notch performance of Barbara Stanwyck that was nominated to the Oscar of Best Actress in a Leading Role and Anne Shirley was nominated to the Oscar of Best Actress in a Supporting Role. This version is a remake of "Stella Dallas" (1925). In 2013, the story is totally dated and corny, but in 1937, the values of the society were so different from the present days that the movie was very popular and became a radio show from 1937 to 1955. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Stella Dallas, Mãe Redentora" ("Stella Dallas, Redemptive Mother")
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One of the Best Movie Performances I've Ever Seen
evanston_dad15 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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In one word: Heartbreaking
FilmOtaku25 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The story of Stella Dallas has been told a couple of times, and the theme of the selfless mother who will do anything, even hurt their children's feelings in order to make a better life for them is not an uncommon one, but one of the first times it was done, and perhaps one of the most effective films of this nature is King Vidor's 1937 weepy "Stella Dallas", starring Barbara Stanwyck in the title role. Stella is a lower-class young woman who catches the eye of local businessman Stephen Dallas, a former playboy who has lost his fortune, but not his good breeding and society status. Stella and Stephen fall in love marry and have a daughter, Laurel. Regardless of her marriage and eventual wealth, Stella is resistant to changing her character, something that upsets Stephen and eventually leads to their separation. As a single mother, Stella devotes her life to Laurel who grows into a beautiful and charming 13 year old (played by Anne Shirley). Living on an allowance provided by Stephen, Stella manages to make ends meet and still give Laurel a decent life. Laurel still visits her father every year, and has an excellent relationship with him, a relationship that seems to intensify when Stephen starts seeing an old flame of his, a newly widowed woman with three boys of her own. When Stella sees that not only do they make a beautiful family together, but that Stephen can provide a life she feels Laurel deserves, a life of society and privilege, she pretends to dismiss Laurel as a burden, causing Laurel to flee to her father's house and to a new life, without her mother.

"Stella Dallas" is definitely a four-hankie film of the highest caliber, and the character of Stella was tailor made for Stanwyck, who earned an Oscar nomination for her work. There is honestly not a lot to comment about in terms of its merits; it is just simply a damn good film with an equally good story and a great actress who manages to pull off the role without resulting to the maudlin or the mundane. Anyone who appreciates having a little bawl session with their drama should definitely see this film; it is a "chick flick" with a world of class. 8/10 --Shelly
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Self Sacrifice Has Never Been Done Quite So Well: A Poignant Tearjerker
movieman-20015 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Stella Dallas (1937) is the bittersweet melodrama about a woman from the wrong side of the tracks, Stella Martin (Barbara Stanwyck) and her ravenous desire to do right by her only daughter. After marrying the ambitious Stephen Dallas (John Boles) and giving birth to Laurel (Anne Shirley) Stella soon realizes that her uncouth upbringing is in direct conflict with the high society world that populates her husband's existence. Stella's refusal to assimilate herself into that world ultimately leads to marital unhappiness to divorce. When Stephen remarries, this time to the respectable widow, Helen Morrison (Barbara O'Neil), Stella devotes herself to smothering Laurel. The two become inseparable. But after an embarrassing incident while on holiday at a ritzy seaside resort, Stella comes to the realization that her only child would be better off without her as a mother.

Director King Vidor keeps the pacing of this four hanky tearjerker swift and smooth, tugging at the heart strings but never in a way that is obvious or cliché. His staging of Stella's subsequent sacrifice, standing outside the window in the pouring rain while her daughter achieves everything she would have hoped and dreamed for herself is both heartwarming and heartrending. This is remarkable film making and a stellar example of the studio system with all its pistons firing.

This new transfer of "Stella Dallas" is only a marginal improvement over the original release through HBO. Though the gray scale of the black and white image is quite pleasing throughout, there is an excessive amount of film grain present throughout this presentation for a very gritty quality that is, at times, quite unflattering. Blacks are solid. Fine details are generally nicely realized. There's a hint of digital grain for a picture that is not very smooth over all, though after watching the first 15 minutes one tends to get lost more in the performances and forgo the substandard presentation. The audio is mono and generally nicely balanced. There are NO extras.
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A Classic film that will leave you bawling.
Julius-1021 June 1999
This is a wonderful old film that will simply take your breath away. Barbara Stanwyck is excellent as the mother Stella, who selflessly denies herself in order to give her daughter a chance in life. The movie will draw you in and the ending will leave you in tears. Barbara Stanwyck delivers a truly beautiful performance.
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King Vidor and Social Differences
EdgarST2 September 2015
Barbara Stanwyck is very good in this melodrama, but I believe little praise has been given to King Vidor, whom I have grown to appreciate in recent years as one of the best classic American filmmakers of all times. Precisely for this reason I finally acquired this film and enjoyed it very much, especially as he shows great perception to depict the cruel and too frequent irreconcilable differences that end relationships. In movies like «The Crowd», «Our Daily Bread», «Street Scene», «Hallelujah!» and even «Bird of Paradise» or "Solomon and Sheba» Vidor intelligently dealt with social, cultural, ethnic, economic or ideological differences, that still affect people and quite often impede any one of us to find happiness. Perhaps the ornamented Stella is a bit overdone, especially in the hotel sequence after she has previously demonstrated how to control her tendency to be excessive and vulgar in dress, make-up, hair style or social manners, when Mr. Dallas picks up their daughter to spend Christmas with him. But most of the time Vidor keeps everything tight, including Sherman Todd's film editing, and even Alfred Newman's melodramatic string overflows are well measured. I must add that the rest of the cast is all good, making «Stella Dallas» a rewarding film experience.
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The mother of all soap operas...
Doylenf30 May 2004
BARBARA STANWYCK knew a good, earthy role when she saw it--and knew she could do justice to STELLA DALLAS. And she does. But still, there are times when the sentiment is poured on just a bit too thick for current taste--and there are scenes where she is almost a caricature of the vulgarized creature she has become. Stanwyck's fans will probably count this among her best--but I have to admit I prefer her way with comedy in THE LADY EVE or her way with wickedness as the femme fatale of DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Here she's a good actress--but the performance is a bit mechanical at times. As for the story itself, well it is pure unadulterated soap opera and no amount of acting skill can make us forget we're watching a teary drama of sacrificial mother love.

A more subtle drama of this kind of sacrifice came later in films such as TO EACH HIS OWN--done with even more honesty and skill than the script permits here. John Boles is as bland as ever in his role as Stella's rich (and rather stuffy) husband; and Alan Hale reminds us that he was one of the most watchable character actors, no matter how obnoxious his roles were. Anne Shirley does nicely as the daughter Stanwyck is willing to sacrifice for--but the truth is, it all seems a bit old-fashioned and must have seemed so even back in 1937.

Still, there is no denying the interest in seeing how Stanwyck plays Stella. There are times when she makes the emotions seem as natural, real and raw as they could possibly be. All in all, a satisfying soap opera under King Vidor's direction.

Excellent support from handsome young Tim Holt as Anne's boyfriend and Barbara O'Neil as an understanding wife who sympathizes with Stanwyck's plight.
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Heartbreaking Tale and Barbara Stanwyck is a GODDESS!
horridhendy22 August 2017
Barbara Stanwyck is just a GODDESS.

She carries this film wonderfully and it was nice to see her play against a 'femme fatale' type in some ways. Despite all the flaws of Stella, as a viewer I felt unshakeable sympathy for her character and I found the film captivating but bitterly sad. I found the daughter's character, Laurel to be a little insipid and rather saccharin, but it's a good plot device for the film. On the whole, I really enjoyed it and I cannot emphasise enough how fantastic Barbara Stanwyck's performance is. She well-deserved her Oscar nomination (...and perhaps the win, I forget who won that year...).

That said, it was rather upsetting and for that reason I would say it's a must-watch film but I might struggle to bring myself to watch it again.
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Generally well-made but ruined by frustrating plot/ending
Like_Wu_told_me28 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
To start off with the positive aspects of the film, I will say that I really did enjoy watching this film, at least the first half. The story is watchable and captivating from the beginning, and the production values are solid. There are undoubtedly some interesting class dynamics throughout the film. It also provides a very frank and interesting look at a non- traditional family structure, where the parents are separated for a number of years but remain on good terms and are not jealous or possessive. Both parents seem to respect that their love for each other as husband and wife no longer exists, and they are mature enough to understand that being controlling about each other's possible new relationships helps no one. It's refreshing and surprising to see this in a film from 1937. Barbara Stanwyck gives a very good performance as Stella, though her character's actions become somewhat ridiculous toward the end of the film (as I will discuss further below). She nails Stella's genuine desire to better herself and to rise above her low-class roots, but she doesn't overplay her social ambitions so much that the other aspects of her character, like her humor and hedonism, are lost. Later in the film, she portrays her deep love for her daughter well without turning her into a one-dimensional martyr. John Boles is a bit plain as Stephen, but it's appropriate for the role. Barbara O'Neil gives a warm and understated performance as Helen. The weak link of the cast for me is Anne Shirley, who gives a mannered performance of almost no nuance or complexity as Laurel. Hers is one of the lesser Oscar-nominated performances I've seen in her category.

WIth that being said, the one element I could not get past was the plot. I found the film's plot to be extremely frustrating, and it is the film's fundamental weakness in my opinion. As a few other reviewers have commented, there are some extremely illogical and just plain baffling character and plot developments, especially later in the film, that I could not get over, even accounting for the fact that the film was released 75 years ago and social norms were different back then. There is a scene late in the film, a catalyst for the film's conclusion, where Stella parades around a resort wearing the gaudiest outfit imaginable. When she finds out that she's hurting Laurel's social standing or whatever, she decides that she needs to disappear from her life, apparently never to see her again. There is no explanation as to how her self-conscious young lady at the beginning turns into the most oblivious woman possible (how can she not realize how ridiculous she looks, honestly?) She actually gets LESS refined as the movie progresses after marrying into the upper class! So instead of simply toning down her out-of-nowhere garishness and working to understand how it might affect her daughter, she concludes that there is no other option but to mislead her daughter, the love of her life, into thinking that she doesn't love her but just wants to marry her washed up drunk friend, "Uncle Ed" (Alan Hale) and move to South America. She is apparently totally fine with letting her daughter, who seems to be her only reason for living at that point, think that she doesn't love her and doesn't want her. And we're supposed to be touched how noble her self-sacrifice is. By the end, I found myself deeply annoyed at the way things played out.

All of this might seem like nitpicking, but the fundamental point of the film is how Stella loves her daughter so much that she's willing to sacrifice everything for her happiness (including their entire relationship, apparently). In the end, Stella is portrayed as the quintessential self- sacrificing mother, but I couldn't help but wondering, was it really necessary to cut off all ties in order for Laurel to have happiness? I think the answer is no, and that is the film's fatal flaw for me.
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"Down to brass tacks"
Steffi_P11 July 2011
In the 1930s, the first decade of the talkies, Hollywood saw a big shift in cinematic acting styles. The early 30s were dominated by the hammy theatricality of obvious gesture and blunt emoting, a combination of the old silent movie style and that of the legion of stage actors brought in at the dawn of the sound era. Gradually however a more naturalistic style – always there, even in the silent era – started to become the norm. This did not mean however that we also saw a rise in what we now think of as realist filmmaking. Hollywood cinema was a world away from what would be going on in Italy a few years later. No, this was the age of movies like Stella Dallas; big, emotional slices of pure Hollywood melodrama.

And yet, melodramatic as it is in outline, Stella Dallas is one of those naturalistic productions. A lot of the realism is thanks to its star, Barbara Stanwyck. Stanwyck had always been a fantastic actress, even in her earliest appearances, but now it seems Hollywood – and the right roles – had caught up with her. Stanwyck's best asset was her ability to display the heightened emotions necessary for a picture like this without appearing overwrought or unrealistic. It's quite amazing to see how she does it, a delicate balance between herself go and reining things in before they reach a point of exaggeration. She never plays to the camera as hams do to an audience; it's as if she is really living her role. She is ably supported here by Anne Shirley, who proves herself as good at transitioning from a teen to a young woman as Stanwyck is at ageing herself from a young woman to a middle-aged mother. Key supporting player Alan Hale is a shameless old scenery-chewer, but he has just enough self-control here to stop his antics unbalancing the picture, and his larger-than-life presence actually makes his character's eventual fate rather poignant.

Director King Vidor typically oversaw such natural yet compelling performances. Crucial to Stella Dallas is also how Vidor foregrounds certain actors and sidelines others. In Stanwyck's first scene the camera remains fixed on her as other players walk on and off around her. Then look at how Stella's father often has his back to the audience, and while her brother has his face to us he is further back in the shot. Because of this these characters don't make too much of an impression on us, and we don't find ourselves wondering what became of them after they disappear from the narrative. We barely even notice that the Dallas family's maid is played by the great Hattie McDaniel, because we hardly catch a glimpse of her face. Everything is geared towards our focus on Stanwyck and Shirley, and to a lesser extent Hale and John Boles. Throughout Vidor's camera is relaxed and unobtrusive, moving little and only closing in on the action at the most intense points, allowing the drama to unfold before us, to make us forget we are watching a movie. At one point Stanwyck fluffs her lines – "I'll fit {the dress} to you rather than… this thing… uh… dummy". It was rare in those days for a take like that to be kept, let alone used in the final cut, and despite sounding like a realistic mistake it would normally stand out amid the clear and perfect dialogue. However, by this point we are so hooked into the story and the characters' lives it seems absolutely natural.

To some, Stella Dallas might sound like an odd experiment, mixing as it does such raw naturalism with the oft-told tale of tragic love across social strata, replete with sweeping strings and soft focus photography. Instead, the two trends produce a beautiful synthesis, a burning melodrama in which the people seem genuine and the emotions true. It's a powerful drama that will bring the tears out in streams, and shows just what was so great about this time in cinema history.
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A true tearjerker.
lberry28 January 2003
My mother used to tell me about the great old movies, especially the tearjerkers--Stella Dallas was one of her favorites. I was skeptical (and let my mom know it) but sat down and watched a videotape of Stella Dallas with my mom shortly after VCRs came out. Well, not only did I cry during the movie, I bawled, sobbed, and had to stop the movie several times so I could stop crying long enough to breathe. Mom just sat there enjoying the movie and laughing at her skeptical, sobbing daughter. I haven't watched it since!
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great old-fashioned melodrama with excellent central performance
BrandonLee_Dizuncan12 April 2015
Old movies are usually not very subtle, they don't leave much to desire, and Stella Dallas is not an exception. It is a weepy melodrama, very emotional and straightforward, but it never goes over the top. It's understandably fast paced, considering that it covers around twenty years of its characters' lives. I found it very amusing and touching. Much of my enjoyment of it is in big part due to wonderful Barbara Stanwyck, one of those rare old Hollywood actresses capable of conveying realism. She plays titular character Stella, a woman who desperately craves for becoming a part of high society. But she just doesn't have enough class to fit in. Her tacky behavior and dressing are off-putting and obviously a big problem for both her husband and her daughter. So Stella may have flaws but being a bad mother is not one of them. She is very proud of her daughter and loves her more than anything. And is extremely dedicated to her well being. Her daughter, Lollie, loves her mother back unconditionally, despite their differences. This movie unequivocally sympathizes with Stella, but doesn't blame any other character for her misfortune either. It seems to only criticize the puritanical society with its prejudice and strict moral norms, and I personally love when movies do that. I also love fun, good-hearted, flawed characters like Stella, especially when they are played by terrific actors such as Barbara Stanwyck.
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"Aw, go on! Don't red apple me!"
utgard145 August 2014
'Wrong side of the tracks' Stella Martin (Barbara Stanwyck) marries 'right side of the tracks' Stephen Dallas (John Boles). They have a daughter and, for some reason, Stella becomes absolutely the worst wife a guy could ask for and the couple splits up. Stella's only redeeming quality is her love for her daughter. When Stephen remarries, this time to a woman with class, Stella must make a heartbreaking choice for her daughter's happiness.

Classic tearjerker offers one of Barbara Stanwyck's best dramatic performances. It's a testament to Stanwyck's talent that she can make you care about a character that is so unlikable. Normally wooden John Boles also has one of his best roles here. Also features Alan Hale, Marjorie Main, and lovely Anne Shirley, one of the prettiest actresses in Hollywood history. Alfred Newman's score is superb. King Vidor directed this fine soaper. Essential viewing for Stanwyck fans.
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Please Don't Take My Baby.
rmax30482326 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I realize that this is a well-known movie and was hoping to get through it, though I knew it was the story of a loving mother who sacrifices everything for her child. I was mistaken -- for the first time in my entire life.

Stanwyck has grown up in a home that looks like a depression-era shack, with a blanked-out mother and a stern puritanical father. She's happy to marry the pudding-faced but rich John Boles just to get away from the smell of cabbage boiling on the stove.

However, as that great old Greek philosopher, Testicles, once told us, you can take the girl out of the shack but not the shack out of the girl. Stanwyck now wants to hit all the night spots with jazz and dancing, where the "swells" hang out, while the husband, Boles, always wants to cut out early. "I'm sorry, dear, we must leave." In the fullness of time Stanwyck gives birth to a baby girl whom she adores. That would be little Laurel, Anne Shirley, who grows up into a cute and cunning post-adolescent before you know it. By this time, Boles has removed his animatronic self to New York to run his business and only visits Stanwyck in her declassé cothes and less elaborate digs on rare occasions.

Boles finds a new, more proper, woman in the city, a woman who doesn't use double negatives like Stanwyck. Pretty little Laurel is attracted to their urban and urbane life style and -- well, it goes on from there.

I managed to grasp the point early on and watching the rest of the narrative play out was dull, like filling in the dots on the back of a café's paper menu to wind up with a drawing of a clown or an elephant. Stanwyck struggles with her emotions. Some viewers will find watching the movie a struggle too.

It's not Barbara Stanwyck's fault. In fact she's pretty good, although not good enough to keep afloat a film in which Boles is such a heavy weight. His presence alone could sink a battleship. Alan Hale has a good turn as an affable friend who lurches into drink as his fortunes decline. And the movie is fast paced, as a lot of 1930s melodramas were.

Production values are pretty good and although I'm made fun of it I can imagine that many people would find the movie involving.
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Sublime Stanwyck
earlytalkie29 May 2012
That Barbara Stanwyck did not receive the Acadamy Award for "Stella Dallas" is one of life's great mysteries. This is a tremendous performance by arguably the best actress of classic Hollywood. No matter what the vehicle, Barbara always delivers the goods. She never appears to be acting, she just infuses any character she is portraying with a realism that runs circles around the competition. Her portrayal of Stella Martin Dallas is that of a flawed creature, to be sure, but one with the innate goodness and love in her heart that elevates her character to an unforgettable level. Anne Shirley is fine as "Lolly", and Barbara O'Neill shines as Stephen Dallas's lost love. She also infuses what could have been a superficial role with warmth and humanity. Alan Hale is a hoot as Ed Munn, and look for Marjorie Main early on as Stella's mother. This film appears to be out-of-print on DVD at present, but with Warner Brothers's recent acquisition of a group of Samuel Goldwyn films, it may resurface soon.
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A real tear jerker
ballyhi2410 December 2004
God How I love this movie. I've seen it 3 times now and I like it better each time. Barbara Stanwyck certainly does a magnificent job here, she really lets you know what a mother goes through. She is one of my all time favorites, so talented yet very down to earth. There weren't many like her. The rest of the characters are well-cast, especially Alan Hale as the blustery boyfriend you hope will wander off somewhere and disappear. Mr. Dallas and his new wife are perfect too, so understanding to poor Stella who can't seem to measure up. A great film worth watching with a great ending. Keep the tissues nearby, you're going to need them.
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zetes15 August 2003
Profoundly frustrating, but, without a doubt, emotionally stirring. It's about a low class woman, Stella Dallas (Barbara Stanwyck), who marries a rich man. They have a daughter, Laurel, but then the marital relationship deteriorates. The husband (John Boles, always looking shocked) moves to New York, where he gets involved with a woman he knew before he met Stella. She married and has children, but her husband has died. Stella has little interest in men, though she does have one very good male friend, Ed Munn (Alan Hale, the real life father of the Skipper from Gilligan's Island), who does love her, but both are content as friends. Stella's only real interest is the happiness of her daughter (played by Anne Shirley as a teenager), and the main conflict of the film is her class as compared to her husband's. She, of course, wants her daughter to be a proper young lady, but she herself is really not. Stella's idea of high class is the upper class' idea of trashy. While this conflict is very interesting, the resolution of it is maddening. Really, how would a poor audience during the Great Depression see this film? It was certainly very popular. But the message is that, if you're not bourgeois, it's best that you give up your child. It's better for the child that way. This is the kind of sentiment that might start a revolution in some parts of the world! That cruel final scene made me want to pull out a guillotine.

Yet there are so many beautiful pieces of the film. King Vidor was one of the very best Hollywood directors, and it shows here as well as it does in The Crowd. There's a poetic moment where Laurel Dallas has a tender moment with her boyfriend after they've been for a bikeride. It's filmed without dialogue. And the relationship between mother and daughter is wonderful. Anne Shirley has many of the film's best scenes in terms of acting. She's very sensitive as an actress, and there is a scene where she has to comfort her mother, when we might expect Laurel to be angry at her.

Barbara Stanwyck is good in the role, but she did better. The character has many inconsistencies, which is the script's problem. Stella seems like a naïve, young girl when we first meet her, but her manners and class seem to fade steadily as the story moves on. It's far too exaggerated at some points, and that, I suppose, is Stanwyck's fault. Or Vidor's, perhaps, as well. Among the other actors, Alan Hale is fun. He also gets more and more pathetic as the film advances, but, disappointingly, at a point we are no longer asked to care for him. He was such an interesting person, and I don't like how he's dismissed. John Boles is painful to watch. 7/10.
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adverts11 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
There are several problems with this film.

The most obvious -- and the one that has been mentioned in many viewer reviews -- is how oblivious the character of Stella Dallas is with regard to the way she dresses, speaks, etc (especially in the second half of the film). She seems to make classy/simple dresses for her daughter! Stella becomes much MORE "low class" as the film progresses, which doesn't make much sense either. Her aspirations in the beginning of the film are essentially the opposite - she's taking a class, she tells John Boles (Stephen, the father) that she wants to change, etc.

Another issue is why it seems to appear that Stella and her daughter are, while not living in squalor, certainly not living as well as the father. Why is that? Not only does Stella work, but her husband provides for them as well. There's no reason to think Stella blows all the money on partying (she doesn't even drink). You would think Stella (and the father) would want to bring her daughter up in a nicer environment.

Stanwyck's performance is good - it always is. But....the whole affair is pretty ridiculous toward the end and I can't honestly say "wow, this is worth seeing just for her acting".

On the other hand: Some reviewers took issue with the family that the daughter ends up with - they are rich snobs, elitist. Well, they may be rich, but there is nothing in the film that shows them to be snobbish. Perhaps Stephen is embarrassed by Stella, but why wouldn't he be? She's a caricature. The rest of his new family are well behaved and the new "mother" is very nice. The rich kids make fun of Stella, but that's not so much of a stretch. I suppose the new family doesn't seem particularly interesting or intelligent and perhaps modern viewers don't really relate to the concept of giving your kids more than what you had (it made a more sense to audiences 75 years ago). I think it's maybe just a little dated now and that effects the enjoyment (but not really the quality) of the film.

And of course....the self sacrifice in the end does not seem necessary (as many other reviews state as well).
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Gotta love this tearjerker
dana-thompson-231 August 2006
Stella Dallas is one of those classic black and white films that you can watch over and over and never really tire of it. Full of many colorful characters and an awesome performance by Miss Stanwyck it is not to be missed. You grow to truly care about the characters and what happens to Lotty. Given the time to get to know the characters helps to make you care. Here is a story worth telling and most definitely worth watching. What happened to movies like this anyway? Watching Stanwyck act so sacrificially is something to see. Stanwyck's relationship with her family in the early part of the film is funny and heartbreaking too. John Boles one of the greats of his day, is terrific as Stephen as well. Catch him the original "Affair to Remember" called "Love Affair". Alan Hale is hysterical as Ed Munn, what a treat, haven't we all had friends like him, at least one. Always showing up at the most inoppotune moment! Don't miss this one, it's worth your time!
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