Stella Dallas (1937)

Barbara Stanwyck earned her first Oscar nomination for the performance she always considered to be her best. In the title role, as a low-class mother who deliberately drives her daughter away so the girl can live a better life with her high-society father, she walks a fine line between bathos and irony. Audiences in the ’30s wept copiously over Stanwyck’s work, while contemporary audiences have found Stella’s strength in a male-dominated society inspiring. Stanwyck wasn’t the first choice for the role. Producer Sam Goldwyn wanted Ruth Chatterton, who turned him down. When Stanwyck pitched herself for the role, he made her do a screen test, something unheard of for a star of her caliber. But when she and Anne Shirley, already cast as her daughter, nailed the birthday party scene, he knew he had the perfect leading lady. Director King Vidor focused as much on social criticism as sentiment, capturing the class distinctions that make Stella’s sacrifice necessary. Cinematographer Rudolph Maté helped Vidor capture some crisp visuals to contrast Stella and her ex-husband’s worlds, even more vivid in a new print debuting here.

Dir. King Vidor

In attendance: Jeremy Arnold