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Stella Dallas (1937 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Stella Dallas
Original theatrical poster
Directed byKing Vidor
Written byDramatization
Harry Wagstaff Gribble
Gertrude Purcell
Sarah Y. Mason
Victor Heerman
Joe Bigelow (uncredited)
Based onStella Dallas
by Olive Higgins Prouty
Produced bySamuel Goldwyn
StarringBarbara Stanwyck
John Boles
Anne Shirley
CinematographyRudolph Maté
Edited bySherman Todd
Music byAlfred Newman
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • August 6, 1937 (1937-08-06)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2 million (U.S. and Canada rentals)[1][2]

Stella Dallas is a 1937 American drama film based on Olive Higgins Prouty's 1923 novel of the same name. It was directed by King Vidor and stars Barbara Stanwyck, John Boles, and Anne Shirley. At the 10th Academy Awards, Stanwyck and Shirley were nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role, respectively.[3]

The film is the second of three film adaptations of Prouty's novel: it was preceded by a silent film of the same name in 1925, and followed by Stella in 1990. In February 2020, the film was shown at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival as part of a retrospective of Vidor's career.[4]

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  • Stella Dallas (1937) | TCM Introduction



In 1919 in a Massachusetts factory town, Stella Martin, the daughter of a mill worker, is determined to better her station in life. She sets her sights on Stephen Dallas, the advertising manager at the mill, whom she catches at an emotionally vulnerable time. Stephen's father killed himself after losing his fortune, leaving Stephen penniless. He disappeared from high society, intending to return for his fiancée, Helen Morrison, once he was able to support her financially, but, just as he feels he has made something of himself, he sees the announcement of Helen's wedding in the newspaper. Stephen and Stella have a brief courtship before impulsively getting married.

A year later, Stella and Stephen's daughter, Laurel, is born. To Stella's great surprise, she discovers she has a strong maternal instinct. Even when she is out dancing and partying, she cannot help but think about her child. As Laurel grows up, Stella's social ambitions are redirected toward her daughter.

Stephen dotes on Laurel as well, but she is the only bond between husband and wife. Without success, he tries to help Stella become more refined, and he strongly disapproves of her continuing friendship with the vulgar Ed Munn. Finally, when Stephen is offered a promotion that requires him to move to New York, Stella tells him to take it, though she and Laurel will stay behind. They separate, but remain married, and Laurel only sees Stephen when he comes to visit, or when they take father-daughter vacations together.

Years later, Stephen runs into Helen, who is now a wealthy widow with three sons. They renew their acquaintance, and for one vacation Stephen brings Laurel to stay at Helen's mansion. Laurel gets along very well with Helen and her sons. Stephen asks Stella for a divorce through his lawyer, but she turns him down.

Stella takes Laurel to a fancy resort, where Laurel meets Richard Grosvenor III, and the youths fall in love. However, when Stella makes her first appearance after recovering from a mild illness, she becomes the target of derision behind her back for her vulgar fashion sense. Embarrassed for her mother, Laurel insists they leave at once, without explanation. On the train ride home, Stella overhears some passengers from the resort discussing her and learns the truth.

After talking with Helen and seeing how elegant she is, Stella agrees to divorce Stephen and asks if Laurel can live with Helen and Stephen once they are married. Helen realizes the reason for the request and agrees. When Laurel learns of this arrangement on her next visit to Helen's mansion, she immediately figures out Stella's thinking and returns home to her mother. However, Stella pretends she wants Laurel off her hands so she can marry Ed and travel to South America, so, dejected, Laurel runs crying back to her father and Helen.

Sometime later, Laurel and Richard get married. Laurel is upset that her mother did not even send her a letter of congratulations, and Helen comforts her by saying that word of her engagement must not have reached Stella. From outside in the rain, Stella watches Laurel and Richard exchange wedding vows through the window. Just another face in a small crowd of curious bystanders, she goes unnoticed. After being shooed away by a police officer, Stella walks away with her head held high and a smile on her tear-stained face, feeling triumphant for having made sure her daughter married into money.



Tim Holt, the son of Jack Holt, had his first proper role in a film with Stella Dallas. He played the same part that was performed by Douglas Fairbanks Jr., also the son of a film star, in the 1925 version of the film.[5]


Critical response

The movie premiered at the Radio City Music Hall, and in a contemporary review for The New York Times, critic Frank S. Nugent wrote that the character of Stella Dallas, first portrayed on the screen 12 years earlier, was outdated, but that the film's theme of motherly love endured: "[W]e cannot accept Stella Dallas in 1937. She is a caricature all the way. ... Stella, through the years, was changeless, but, where her daughter was concerned, she was eternal: the selfless mother." Nugent praised Stanwyck's performance, saying: "Miss Stanwyck's portrayal is as courageous as it is fine. Ignoring the flattery of make-up man and camera, she plays Stella as Mrs. Prouty drew her—coarse, cheap, common ... And yet magnificent as a mother."[6]

Variety praised the film, while mentioning some inconsistencies, such as the fact that Stella and her daughter both wear clothes made by Stella, but the daughter is always dressed in good taste, while the mother is not.[7]

Maclean's criticized the outlandish costumes worn by the title character, but praised the story as relevant for any decade, concluding that "the picture is handled with honesty, restraint and feeling."[8]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 90% of 10 critics' reviews of the film are positive, with an average rating of 6.9/10.[9]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[10] Best Actress Barbara Stanwyck Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Anne Shirley Nominated

The character Stella Dallas was nominated for inclusion on the American Film Institute's 2003 list AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains,[11] and is considered by many as among Stanwyck's signature roles.[12] Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa cited Stella Dallas as one of his favorite films.[13][14]


  1. ^ Madsen, Axel (2015). Stanwyck: A Biography. ISBN 978-1-5040-0861-7. Released in August 1937, Stella Dallas grossed more than $2 million.
  2. ^ Reid, John Howard (2012). 140 All-Time Must-See Movies for Film Lovers Now Available On DVD. ISBN 978-1-105-75295-7. UA's top domestic box office hit of 1937, with gross rentals close to $2 million.
  3. ^ "The 10th Academy Awards (1938) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
  4. ^ "Berlinale 2020: Retrospective "King Vidor"". Berlinale. Retrieved February 28, 2020.
  5. ^ Schallert, Edwin (March 26, 1937). "Romance of Sonja Henie and Power to Continue in Thin Ice" Film: Louis Borell Will Portray Grand Duke". Los Angeles Times.
  6. ^ Nugent, Frank S. (August 6, 1937). "The Screen". The New York Times. p. 21.
  7. ^ Stella Dallas - Variety
  8. ^ Shots and Angles | October 1, 1937
  9. ^ Rotten Tomatoes Stella Dallas (1937)
  10. ^ "10th Academy Awards". Retrieved February 21, 2023.
  11. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  12. ^ Roger Ebert Utterly Modern: The Charisma of Barbara Stanwyck
  13. ^ Lee Thomas-Mason. "From Stanley Kubrick to Martin Scorsese: Akira Kurosawa once named his top 100 favourite films of all time". Far Out. Far Out Magazine. Retrieved September 20, 2022.
  14. ^ "Akira Kurosawa's Top 100 Movies!". Archived from the original on 27 March 2010.

Further reading

  • Williams, Linda. "'Something Else besides a Mother': 'Stella Dallas' and the Maternal Melodrama," Cinema Journal Vol. 24, No. 1 (Autumn, 1984), pp. 2–27 in JSTOR
  • Stevenson, Diane. "Three Versions of Stella Dallas" for Jeffrey Crouse (editor), Film International, Issue 54, Volume, 9. Number 6 (2011), pp. 30–40.

External links

This page was last edited on 21 June 2024, at 02:30
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