One of the most famous Hollywood soaps, Stella Dallas was first a best-selling novel, a play, a silent film, and a radio serial that ran for 18 years. Barbara Stanwyck’s performance as the devoted mother gives depth and humanity to an overly familiar story, and she considered it her best work in a career of notable performances.
Stanwyck, a good-hearted girl from the hard side of a mill town, meets and marries down-on-his-luck heir John Boles and they have a daughter. When Boles gets the chance to return to his privileged life in New York, Stanwyck worries that she won’t fit in and stays behind with the girl. She returns to the hard-living crowd she used to know and comes to realize that she’s holding back her now-grown daughter (Anne Shirley). She strikes a soul-rending bargain with Boles’s new, society-bred wife that allows Shirley to marry into a wealthy family. The last scene is a legendary tearjerker.
Forty-eight actresses were tested for the lead in Stella Dallas after Ruth Chatterton turned it down. When Barbara Stanwyck learned Samuel Goldwyn was planning to make the film, she convinced Goldwyn she was perfect for the part.
Academy Award Nominations: Best Actress: Barbara Stanwyck; Best Supporting Actress: Anne Shirley.
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, John Boles, Anne Shirley, Barbara O’Neil, Alan Hale, Marjorie Main, Tim Holt
Director: King Vidor
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Original Story: Harry Wagstaff Gribble, Olive Higgins Prouty, Gertrude Purcell
Director of Photography: Rudolph Mate
Editor: Sherman Todd
Composer: Alfred Newman
Screenwriters: Victor Heerman, Sarah Y. Mason
Art Director: Richard Day
USA / United Artists / 110 minutes / 1937