Stella Maris (1918)
Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.
as Stella Maris/Unity B...
as John Riska
as Louise Risca
as Lady Blount
as Lord Blount
as Aunt Gladys Linden
as The Nurse
as Louise Risca
as The Dog
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Critic Reviews for Stella Maris
One of the best showcases for Pickford's talent and considerable screen presence... and one of the most confident melodramas of its era.
This tearjerker melodrama proved to be a big hit commercially for the popular silent star Mary Pickford.
Audience Reviews for Stella Maris
directed by Marshall Neilan
written by Frances Marion
based on the book by William J. Locke
starring Mary Pickford, Ida Waterman, Herbert Standing, Conway Tearle, Marcia Manon, Josephine Crowell
Mary Pickford demonstrates dramatic range playing two roles in this 1918 silent romance that presents the tyranny of love and the grave sorrows afflicting the lovelorn.
Pickford plays two young women who couldn?t have had more opposite upbringings. Stella Maris, crippled from birth, has been sheltered from all the evil in the world and lives in comfort never having left the palatial home she grew up in. Unity Blake is a sorry sort who has spent most of her life in an orphanage. She?s uncouth, hunched over and walks about with a glum look upon her face. Naturally they both fall for the same guy and the film conveys their struggles to impress upon him their intentions. Unfortunately for Unity she?s merely dreaming because the man, named John Risca, wants nothing to do with her romantically. He only has eyes for Stella and this really gets Unity?s panties in a knot.
As the film opens Stella is surrounded with fluffy things, flowers, and is tended to by Lady Eleanor and Sir Oliver Blount. She lives in the welcoming lap of luxury and lacks for nothing. Meanwhile Unity is being chosen by Louis Risca, the wife of John, and taken to her home to clean and cook. One day Unity is robbed at the grocer and Louis beats her senseless gaining herself three years in the pokey. John takes Unity in as an act of kindness and Unity quickly grows attached to him. The essential note of the plotline is that John does not tell Stella that he is married. Indeed, nobody tells Stella anything about how cruel the world is and she isn?t even aware that there is a war going on. She professes not to understand the nature of war and how it leads brothers to fight against brothers. She is horrified upon reading the paper and discovering that a man has shot his brother and that a woman has drowned herself and children in the Thames. This realization creates quite a shock in the poor girl and it takes her a bit to recover.
The film includes many instances of Unity looking beaten, forlorn or just plain miserable. She is a rather pathetic girl who has suffered immensely her entire life. It?s quite amazing how different Pickford is able to make herself for each role. As Stella she is the very image of light and elegance. She radiates a positive energy that is readily captured by close ups that capture her seminal beauty. As Unity contrarily she seems wilted and harried all the time and nervously moves her hands about. She behaves as if she?s terrified of everything she encounters until she meets John and she becomes accustomed to his affection. But it doesn?t matter because she?s plain and Stella is astonishingly beautiful and poor Unity doesn?t stand a chance.
There is a very clear distinction between wealth and poverty in this film. Poverty is presented as a loathsome state that the poor truly deserve due to their profligate lifestyles or because it is God?s will. This is never explicitly stated but its easily ascertained by the ways in which the poor are excluded from the table of the wealthy. Unity is taken in by the Blounts but there is no love to be found there because she?s a sick animal and they don?t want their darling Stella to become aware of her state. It seems as if there is no place for Unity except with John who at least treats her like she?s a human being and not some ghastly anthropological experiment. Indeed, he alone treats her with respect and affords her an honor that she lacks in every other area of her life. He gives her warmth and tenderness and she succumbs to his charms and translates his kindness into an impossible love. John is merely behaving in accordance to a principle of goodness, a Christian perspective, that treats the lowest as if they were someone special. He wants nothing in return and only asks that Unity continue to thrive while under his care.
Stella is wonderfully naive about everything around her and she possesses a simple charm that is constant throughout the film. She does benefit from a surgery that allows her to walk affording her nothing more than strolls around the gardens. She still doesn?t fully grasp the pains and struggles of daily existence for a great number of impoverished people but she does attempt to help a beggar woman who stumbles onto the home?s property. She is awoken to the hell of existence and it doesn?t rightly change her or anyone for that matter. The message seems to be that life is truly hell for those who cannot make their own happiness which stems from inside.
Suffering and grief are definite themes in this film. Louise is a despairing case who drinks excessively and looks pensively into the distance with searching eyes that reflect tremendous inner torment. The great shots that introduce Louise with a bottle before her and a cigarette in hand are iconic images of a tortured person in a state of whirling confusion and abject unhappiness. John spends a great deal of the second half of the film with his head in his hands, suffering his own raging torments which he himself has created by not coming clean with Stella. His wife proves to be a real thorn in his side and continues to harass Stella long after she admits to her that she indeed is John?s wife.
The ending of this film seems tacked onto the end in order to appease the sentimental nature of many film goers at the time of its creation. The war was raging and cinema was seen as an escape from all the messiness that the war entailed. Basically, the tone for the entire picture is grim and grimmer and there is no hope that anything is ever going to improve in the lives of the central characters. But of course it does change in a major way that isn?t telegraphed so it isn?t easily read. The sunlight does come out and there is frolicking and playfulness and all the miseries of the past are magically wiped away. The burdensomeness of life as it was has been eradicated in one singular movement that has left the pathway wide open for exploration and great bounties of effervescent joy.
The performances in this film are all quite stellar in how they convey the complexities of the characters. Mary Pickford plays both characters with a distinct set of traits and quirks and her grasp of various emotional states is wonderfully conveyed. Pickford proves apt at playing a wide range of expressions within the context of the film. She is hopelessly maudlin in one instance and beaming with intoxicating light in the other. Stella Maris is simply one of the truly lovely creatures to have ever been created for the screen and this has everything to do with Pickford?s delightful performances. I can only think of Amy Adams in ?Enchanted? in terms of a parallel to the exquisite comeliness of this character. Conway Tearle plays a strong, morally certain man who finds himself in a terrible fix that plagues him immensely. Tearle captures the agony of this character and there are great shots depicting the intensity of his suffering as he glances off into the distance. Marcia Manon does a fantastic job looking mad as a hatter in this film. Her eyes glaze over and her face contorts into a satanic laugh that shakes her own being. She?s creepy in her way and legitimately odd in her presentation.
Overall, this film captures an essence of what cruelty love or the lack of it can instill in a person who is not altogether schooled in its more devastating tenets. Love here is a broken thing that must be made whole for it to possess a person in its entirety. Unity only holds a fragment of love and has been unable to fashion the pieces together for her entire life. She?s an example of a character who is easily led to believe in a fantasy because the reality she is forced to face is so grim and hopeless. She?s cast aside at every turn until she meets the first person who truly enjoys her company. That she mistakes this for love is certainly not her fault but the film cannot present a scenario where she gains what she has sorely lacked for so long. Stella Maris is a singing bird who has not had to do much of anything but enjoy her surroundings for her entire life. It is not clear in the end if any of that will change although there is the hope that she might actually find a way to get out and experience some of the world.
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