Stella Dallas (1937)

Heroism is often equated with courageous and selfless acts benefitting the health and well-being of other individuals. We often see those deemed as heroes to be role models, subsequently emulating their acts so that we can feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in our own lives. Society often thinks of historical figures who risked their own safety for the welfare of others on a massive scale. However, we model our behaviour very often from those we presume to be highly influential and important in our personal lives whether it be parents, friends, or an authority figure. It is often they who demonstrate the greatest heroism of all. “Stella Dallas” is a heart-wrenching 1937 drama directed by King Vidor exploring this very idea.

The always versatile and wonderful Barbara Stanwyck plays Stella Martin, a woman from humble, working class roots who falls for Stephen Dallas Jr. (John Boles), the advertising manager at the town mill from a background of high society. They fall in love quickly, marry, and have a daughter named Laurel. Initially, it appears as if Stella has also selfishly fallen in love with luxury. As well, her brash personality and past upbringing often excludes her from opulent circles. Despite superficial appearances and a crumbling marriage, the motivation behind Stella’s actions is always with good intentions. Laurel is highly appreciative of her mother’s efforts and fiercely loyal towards her. Mutual devotion, embarrassment, anger, and sadness are experienced in one pivotal scene  manifesting into Stella making the most selfless and heartbreaking decision of parenthood.

Parenthood itself is probably one of the most altruistic roles in society. So much energy, resources, and love are directed towards moulding and ensuring that a child will be productive and prepared for the challenges of adulthood. It often does “take a village to raise a child”, but it can be increasingly difficult in the case of single parenting and co-parenting. Co-ordination and compromise are essential to ensure that the child does not feel blame and continues to feel loved. This was especially the case in Laurel’s upbringing in spite of Mr. and Mrs. Dallas’ sometimes icy disdain for one another. Overall, I feel that the bravery and altruism of parents continuously expressed embodies the definition of a hero.

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I do not own the above image.

This post is part of the Inspirational Heroes Blogathon hosted by The Midnite Drive-In and Hamlette’s Soliloquy! Please click on the link to check out other great posts about inspirational film heroes!

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16 thoughts on “Stella Dallas (1937)

  1. A good film but Stella’s character always perplexes me as part of parenting is to be selfless and when she does do that, it’s far too late to save the marriage. If only Stella had learned to be selfless earlier on but then, we wouldn’t have much of a movie then, perhaps.

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    • Very good point! I feel that Stella really grows over the course of the movie and it shows the evolution of her reaching the point where she becomes selfless in her parenting. I will say her methodologies of reaching that point (the letter about Ed Munn at the end) are things that I wouldn’t do, but her heart is in a good place deep down.

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    • The highlight is definitely her performance, which is my favourite of hers. I viewed it with a different set of eyes this time around and didn’t warm to her as easily as I did on my first watch, but I think it is a must see film especially for Stanwyck and also its focus on mother-daughter relationships.

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  2. I’m thrilled you focused on one of Barbara Stanwyck’s films. She is a personal favorite. I found Stella Dallas painful to watch specifically because of Stanwyck’s character. Her journey to maturity is wonderfully done. But through it all she remains so earnest it hurts. Great review.

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    • She definitely gives one of her best performances in this for sure. I find sexism in a lot of old Hollywood movies difficult to watch especially with all of the happenings of Hollywood recently. I try to think about gender roles, etc. at the time when I watch movies.

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  3. I can”t believe I have never seen this despite being very aware of it and being a fan of the very versatile Barbara Stanwyck. I need to make the effort and watch it! Thanks so much for a fantastic review and for inspiring me (ha!) to sit down and watch this. 🙂

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