People say write about what you know. Whether true or otherwise is not something I will debate. Rather, to talk about the author Olive Higgins Prouty. Indeed, she did write about what she knew in her novels Now, Voyager and Stella Dallas. The former 1941 novel is about the psychology of a woman and Prouty based the character Dr. Jaquith on her own psychiatrist. The latter novel was written in response to the death of her three-year-old daughter from a brain ailment. Understand though Stella Dallas is not about this subject matter but more about sacrifice.
Both of these heartbreaking novels were made into movies because their stories are utterly poignant and totally touching. I adore both movies and will talk about the Bette Davis classic Now, Voyager (1942) another day.
There are plenty of 1930s movies out there but none like Stella Dallas (1937).
The last scene will stay with you for life. No worries though, I’m not going to reveal that but I will give a little taster on director King Vidor’s Stella Dallas.
Factory workers are walking out of the local mill at the end of the work day and Stella Dallas (Barbara Stanwyck) places herself at the front gate of her house reading. Ignoring the mill hands walking by Stella is waiting on a particular worker who eventually passes by too. But he ignores her.
Her brother turns up from the mill and on seeing this, teases her about her efforts to attract the guy. Arguing and fighting with her brother he tells her that she doesn’t seem satisfied with them (the family) anymore. Confused by the fighting on arriving home Stella’s dad (George Walcott) comments that they used to get on. Irritated her brother replies that it is since she started the business course to improve herself.
The Newspaper Clipping
Laying on her bed reading Stella stops to take out a folded-up newspaper clipping. The headline reads:
What Had The Suicide Of Banker Dallas To Do With The Recent Wedding Of Beautiful Helen Dane?
Staring at the photos and continuing to read the article it states that Stephen Dallas (John Boles) the Banker’s son disappeared shortly after his father’s suicide to make a new life. In a world of her own Stella is eyeing the newspaper piece and thinking deeply about it.
The viewer also realises that the man Stella was waiting for earlier is Stephen Dallas.
Baloney Sandwich To Deli Sandwich
Mrs Martin (Marjorie Main), Stella’s mother is in the kitchen and her daughter is making lunch for her brother. Humble surroundings in the kitchen reflect that this working class family live hand-to-mouth. Handing her brother’s lunch to him he asks what it is and when told its baloney again he refuses to take it. Pushing her brother’s button they argue again and her mother scolds her and reminds her he is earning money for the family.
Deciding to make another lunch for him her mother asks her if she will take to him at the mill. Initially saying no but then accepting to take her brother his lunch Stella decides to get him a deli sandwich on the way. Pleasantly surprised her Mum thanks her but little does she know that this is not a selfless favour.
An opportunity to meet Mr Dallas has arrived and Stella intends to make the most of it.
Pouring over his typewriter Stephen Dallas is writing to his ex finance to congratulate her on her wedding. Having just got his life together after his family tragedy he finds the love of his life has moved on. Turning away from the letter he looks down at the newspaper headlines that Stella had been reading earlier. On entering the office the clerk tells him Mr Beamer his boss is on his way and has closed a lucrative deal. Stephen is glad for his boss but visibly distracted. The clerk tells him Mr Beamer said he will give him a raise and a vacation. He murmurs back sadly saying he’s got no place to go.
Stella arrives at the office where Mr Dallas works with her brother’s lunch and asks for directions to find him. Looking out the window and pointing to the yard Stephen gives her directions but Stella is far too googly eyed to be interested. A happy Mr Beamer (Harlan Briggs) walks in and recognises Stella. “It’s Charlie Martin’s girl all grown up.” he says. Mr Beamer formally introduces them. On receiving the news that Stella’s brother has already had lunch the three of them eat the deli sandwiches together and Stephen Dallas finally takes notice of Stella and a friendship begins
Explaining that she doesn’t want to be her, she wants to be like the people in the movies Stephen tells her to stay as she is and not to pretend. She wants to do things in a refined, well-bred way and he says he likes her just as she is.
Describing to her that he was lonely before he met her it is clear that they are both falling for each other.
From friendship to relationship to marriage. Small town girl marries high society man. A year later they have a little girl, Laurel (Anne Shirley). Both parents adore Laurel and over time this is the only thing left keeping them together.
Stella craves to be educated and refined and be accepted into high society. Stephen tries to guide her but fails. Arguing over Stella’s unsavoury friends and her refusing to go to live with him in New York for work, the cracks in the marriage open wide and they separate.
Looking Through The Window
The story continues right up until Laurel is an adult. The real story is what happens between the split and when Laurel is grown up.
Remember that this movie was made in 1937 and the world was a different place then. Take that into account and just enjoy the magnificent performance from Barbara Stanwyck as a true female hero.
Both Stanwyck and Shirley were nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role, respectively.
The title looking through the window refers to the end scene that I mentioned in the introduction. Kleenex at the ready!
I’d appreciate a comment below.
What did you think after that taster? Will you watch the movie? Let me know.
Or maybe you’ve seen it before, is it a favourite movie of yours?
Respect to the Image Makers!