The fascinating ‘Stella Dallas’ was screened as part of the King Vidor retrospective at the Berlinale

Posted on March 12, 2020


The beauty of this film lies in how marvellously grey Stella is. Just as you pin her down as one thing, she shows another (unexpected) side.

In Stella Dallas (1937), Barbra Stanwyck plays the titular character, the daughter of a millworker who wants more from life. As the film opens — the year is 1919 — she is trying to catch the eye of a rich man, Stephen (John Boles), an executive at the mill. Eventually, she succeeds, with a series of moves that could be called “womanly wiles”. Does this make her a bad person? Or is she simply someone who goes after what she wants? After all, she does not misrepresent herself to Stephen. He knows who she is, what social class she is from. The “womanly wiles” merely help her catch his attention, right?

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