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W.S. Van Dyke
Working-class Stella Martin marries high-end Stephen Dallas and soon they have a daughter named Laurel. But Stephen's incessant demands of Stella to become what she isn't leads to their eventual separation. Stephen later marries Helen Morrison (his prior fiancée), and Laurel becomes the focus of Stella's life and love. Nothing is too good for Laurel as far as Stella is concerned. Determined to give her all the advantages, she takes Laurel on a trip to an expensive resort where Laurel makes friends with rich kids. After an embarrassing incident, Stella realizes that her daughter would go farther in life without Stella as her mother. Her subsequent sacrifice is shattering. Written by
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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