Oscar Nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Barbara Stanwyck), and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Anne Shirley).
Producer Samuel Goldwyn's second attempt to bring Olive Higgins Prouty's shamefully sentimental novel to the screen was boosted by Barbara Stanwyck's sympathetic performance, and an intriguing cast of contemporary stars who largely safeguarded their characters from becoming wan stereotypes.
A classic pot of melodramatic mush, "Stella Dallas" was first filmed by Goldwyn in 1925, with Belle Bennett as the socially unrefined Stella, and Ronald Colman as the conservative husband who spends much of his life appalled at Stella's lurid behaviour. Pity MGM didn't offer the silent version with the Stanwyck remake in a special double-bill edition, so viewers could note the respective interpretations of each film's cast, directors, and screenwriters.
According to King Vidor biographers Raymond Durgnat and Scott Simmon, director Vidor patterned several key scenes after the original Henry King version - including the famous finale - yet Vidor's main upgrade was in reshaping the story to focus more closely on Stella Dallas (dropping some non-Stanwyck scenes that were reportedly filmed, but cast off during the film's final editing), and rendering Stella into a more soulful character. The 1937 version also derives from an off-Broadway theatrical adaptation by the colorfully named writing team of Gertrude Purcell, and Henry Wagstaff Gribble.
MGM's transfer is very nice, taken from as very clean print, with an excellent mono soundtrack. Both Rudoph Mate's cinematography and Alfred Newman's music also shine in this impressive production (though film buffs will likely notice the ritzy mansion, in which rival mom Barbara O'Neil lives, is the same set used in Goldwyn's Russian epic, "We Live Again").
While author Prouty enjoyed a second wave of fame with the 1942 film version of her classic romance "Now, Voyager", the popularity of her Stella Dallas character spawned a long-running NBC radio show, which morphed the character into a super-single-mom/all-purpose heroine, who, at one point, was falsely accused of stealing an Egyptian mummy! (For the curious, the following website provides an amusing chronicle of Stella's colourful existence on radio.) Decades later, the character was given another big screen treatment in 1990, with Bette Midler, in "Stella."
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan
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