I did not know much about this film going into it. Only that is was made in 1937, was classified as a melodrama, starred Barbara Stanwyck and features a mother-daughter relationship. "Stells Dallas" is a heartbreaking portrait of a mother who slowly comes to realize the negative effects her behavior has on her daughter’s life and sacrifices her happiness so her daughter can have the life she wants her to have. I did not expect to really be very effected by it but I found myself crying at the end. This is mainly because of Barbara Stanwyck’s performance, a performance that few others have topped in my opinion. She was a very complex character, one that did not fit the standard mold that a female protagonist character had at that time within the studio system. She was frustrating, annoying, sympathetic, unlucky but she was also loving and devoted to her child. She was not a fun character to watch because she got on my nerves many times; but this made her real and layered. It makes the film stand out among the many others that have either a good protagonist or an evil protagonist. To have one that falls in between in such a way is impressive. I also enjoy the fact that this features such a well developed female character. They are rare in films and Stanwyck was lucky to have an opportunity to portray one. They don’t come around often. Females usually fulfill their necessary place in films and it usually does not often go farther than that, especially in the 30’s. This is why “Stella Dallas” was a refreshing film to see; because of its complex and flawed female protagonist.
“Stella Dallas” fits well into the melodrama genre concerning the theme of fate. Stella while makes several bad decisions, she is also the victim of bad timing on a number of occasions. Most of these involve her friend Ed who is constantly drunk and an overall embarrassment of a person. Stella relates to him and generally enjoys his company even though he is probably not the best influence on her. When they are seen out together in public making a ruckus, Laurel’s teacher sees them and as a consequence of this, nobody goes to Laurel’s birthday party. In a gut wrenching scene, Stella is invited by Mr. Dallas to go and spend Christmas with him in New York but when he sees a drunken Ed stumble out of the room he takes back his invitation. The theme of fate is present in “Stella Dallas” and it is one of the ways in which the film is a melodrama.
This was the second King Vidor film I have watched for this class and I notice a major difference in the camera work in both films. “The Crowd” showcased an innovative style of experimentation and a self awareness of the camera. “Stella Dallas” follows the Classical Hollywood Cinema style of filmmaking present during “Stella Dallas” release. This means that the camera in invisible and seamless, only employing rational camera techniques instead of experimenting with the camera in ways that made the audience aware of the camera’s presence. Vidor does a lot with the invisible technique though, using it to capture the best and most effective performance possible from Stanwyck. The shot of Stella listening to the girls on the train and the last shot of the film in particular use movement in a rational way to capture the emotion of Stella.
I could say a lot more about “Stella Dallas”. It was a film I thoroughly enjoyed even though it completely drained me emotionally. I was completely taken in by it and thought the story was moving and effective in a way that did not delve into corny or overly sentimental territory. Finally, Barbara Stanwyck’s performance is incredible and in my opinion is not in any way dated.