I think Miss Stanwyck was a great actress, but when I look at the version of STELLA DALLAS that King Vidor directed her in twelve years after this silent version..... well, something always bothered me about it. WHY was she supposed to be such a monster? She was Barbara Stanwyck. All right, she wasn't dressed as beautifully as she was in THE LADY EVE, but being a little bit frumpy isn't against the law, especially when you look like Barbara Stanwyck.
But when Belle Bennett dresses up in this movie, she is a well-meaning horror, wearing stripes, frills, lace, feather, rings on her fingers, probably bells on her toes..... and a fat suit. You couldn't have gotten Miss Stanwyck into a fat suit. She had her eye on her career. But Belle Bennett had her eye on making this movie as good as possible, so she becomes a fat monster, loving her daughter and utterly clueless. It's a great performance.
Also great is the way Henry King directs the sequences that take place in the mill town. No one had a better eye for the details of small town life than Henry King, from TOL'ABLE David through WAIT TILL THE SUN SHINES NELLIE. Jean Hersholt also has a good role as Ed Munn, and a lovely comic turn on the train into the city. Ronald Colman is fine, exuding the melancholia that he used throughout the 1930s whenever he had to run away to the Foreign Legion or face the guillotine. Alice Joyce is sedate and charming, a fine counterpoint for Bennett. Lois Moran, as Stella's daughter is adorable, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., in his first real role, is excellent.
There are a number of plot points that must be gotten through and which are better indicated in Frances Marion's script than in the 1937 version ... even though some points seem to be skipped over, they are butchered worse in the sound version. Something always seems to be missing from these weepers. It may be that it is simply that I am not able to appreciate the fine points of these things, but there you go.
However, despite these minor failings, the above-mentioned virtues, as well as the classic final shot of Stella watching the wedding through the window, make this is a great film, and it is only my annoyance at some of the minor failings of the translation from book to film that keeps me from considering this perfect.
But it is ten times the film that the sound remake is. Even if the voice I hear in my head when Miss Bennett moves her lips is that of Barbara Stanwyck.
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