Stella Dallas Reviews
In an environment where social status dictates modest and appropriate behavior, Stella quickly stands out with her bubbly, impulsive and spontaneous personality. This is also a movie about the love and friendship between a mother and her daughter.
Their daughter Laurel, is the one thing they see eye-to-eye on. Both agree she needs to be raised as a refined and educated lady. But is that really what Stella wants? Stella comes to depend on Laurel to fulfill all her emotional needs, and that seems like a lot of pressure to put on your child. What happens when Laurel starts living a life that doesn't include mother? "Stella Dallas" is an unusual film for it's time and would certainly be an odd film today. An aimless character like Stella lives an aimless life and in the end doesn't really have anything to show for it. It's a sort of just-comeuppance for someone who isn't really that bad a person (and actually by most standards, is a wonderful, self-sacrificing woman) masquerading as a hard-suffering "woman done wrong"- type of story. There's quite a lot of depth to this film, if one knows what they're looking at.
One of the great melodramas, "Stella Dallas" is like a non-noirish "Mildred Pierce"--except her daughter isn't such a venomous little bitch. However, when the daughter elevates to higher society thanks to the money Stella was able to get from her philandering husband, she becomes ashamed of her mother after her rich friends unknowingly criticize Stella in front of her daughter. She's not as powdered-sugar sweet as one originally assumes her to be and I actually ended up disliking her somewhat. But of course, the whole thing is really Stanwyck's show and proof that she was one of the best actresses to ever grace the silver screen.
Note: This review will contain some spoilers.
I never thought I'd ever do this to an old film, but this is likely the first time I've ever given a so-called classic the dreaded 0% rating. To be honest, I rarely give films a 0% rating, only if the film is truly what I consider to be absolute torture to watch, which is why I've given the rating to films like Dragonball: Evolution, Jurassic Park 3, and Weekend at Bernie's. Why do I hate Stella Dallas, you ask, considering the fact that I had never heard of the film and I've enjoyed past films starring the great Barbara Stanwyck? My review now.
Stella Martin (Barbara Stanwyck) is a poor, filthy, and vulgar factory-town girl who falls for the wealthy Stephen Dallas (John Boles) and instantly marries him after two minutes of screen time (first sign that the film is going to be horrible). As we learn in Frozen, where you never marry someone after just meeting that person, the two start to hate each other over social conflicts, and especially over the path in raising their child. Stephen leaves for New York and starts to fall for the wealthy Helen Morrison (Barbara O'Neil). Stella struggles to fit in with social life, passing her and her daughter Laurel (Anne Shirley) as rich women, and sending her off to a wealthy school. But Stella believes that she's not doing enough for her daughter, and plots a way to get rid of her for good.
I watched this film on my favorite TCM program (The Essentials), and was curious about the film from the beginning, as I've never seen a film from acclaimed director King Vidor, and hearing that Stanwyck believed this to be her favorite role in her career. I have never disagreed so far from a "classic" in my life! To quote the late, great Roger Ebert, "I hate this film. I hate hate hate this film!"
What's wrong with the film, the story. Supposedly this story has been told countless of times and this version is supposed to the best, but if this is the best version, then I don't want to know how the story is told in other versions. Stella Dallas is one of the most annoying, stupid, and obnoxious characters I've seen in a motion picture! Look at all the stupid, easy mistakes she makes in this movie! She causes hatred with her husband cause she gives her baby girl bourbon, having a relationship with an old, mentally drunken idiot who pranks people with itching powder and argues over the perfect turkey, passes herself off as a rich woman by making her own clothes, and embarrassing herself in the process. Even worse is that after realizing her mistakes, she has some sense of regret and wants to get rid of her kid. (SPOLIER ALERT) The film ends where she alienates herself with her girl so much that she ends up staying with the father and his new wife. The daughter eventually marries, and Stella watches it outside from the window, and the film ends where she leaves smiling, leaving an implication that she never cared for her child in the first place. WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE DOES THIS BRING TO HARD-WORKING MOTHERS ALL OVER THE WORLD? Basically, what I got out of the film is that when your mother makes a simple mistake, life will be much, simpler if they get rid of you forever. If I was a mother dedicating in raising my children (which is a freaky imagination I'm making, I know), then I would surely get offended at the message it's making. (END OF SPOILERS) I don't blame Stanwyck for doing a poor job in the role, but King Vidor does a terrible job at creating a terrible character that no one would root for.
Even the other actors involved in the film do poor jobs in their roles. I would root for John Poles, who plays the smart rich husband who abandons Stella early on, but Boles is extremely bland in a truly annoying motion picture. Alan Hale is absolutely horrific as Ed Munn the old, mental idiot who flirts with Stella throughout the picture. When the film turns into juvenile comedy where the two disagree over a turkey for Christmas, I almost lost it in Hulk anger. But what could be worse than Stella? The daughter, played annoyingly by Anne Shirley. I had never seen Shirley in a film before, and I can't really criticize her for it, but Laurel Dallas is just way too obnoxious, about as stupid as Stella I might add. Sure she has some common sense in the end, but I wasn't impressed.
Again, I have never disagreed with a so-called "essential" with Robert Osborne this much in my life! I absolutely hated this pathetic excuse of a movie. Stella Dallas has a very annoying soap-operay plot that has the appeal of Young and the Restless fans, the characters are either obnoxious, bland, or unsympathetic that you want to just want to throw the TV remote in HULK ANGER, and King Vidor's direction is lazy. If this is the best Vidor has to offer, then I have a feeling that King Vidor is an overrated filmmaker.