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.
USA | United Artists | 106 minutes | 1937
Director: King Vidor
Script: Sarah Y. Mason, Victor Heerman, Olive Higgins Prouty,
Barbara Stanwyck as Stella Dallas
Marjorie Main as Mrs. Martin
Tim Holt as Richard Grosvenor III
Paul Stanton as Arthur W. Morley
Lynne Roberts as Student
Harlan Briggs as Mr. Beamer
Alan Hale as Ed Munn
John Boles as Stephen Dallas
Anne Shirley as Laurel “Lorrie” Dallas
Barbara O’Neil as Helen Morrison
George Walcott as Charlie Martin
Ann Shoemaker as Miss Margaret Phillibrown
Nella Walker as Mrs. Grosvenor
Bruce Satterlee as Cornelius ‘Con’ Morrison
Jimmy Butler as Con Morrison – Grown Up
Jack Egger as John Morrison
Dickie Jones as Lee Morrison
Lillian Yarbo as Gladys
Laraine Day as Girl at Soda Shop / Train Passenger (uncredited)