Friday, January 26, 2007

STELLA DALLAS (Samuel Goldwyn 1937) MGM Home Video

Stella Dallas (1937) is the bittersweet melodrama about a woman from the wrong side of the tracks, Stella Martin (Barbara Stanwyck) and her ravenous desire to do right by her only daughter. After marrying the ambitious Stephen Dallas (John Boles) and giving birth to Laurel (Anne Shirley) Stella soon realizes that her uncouth upbringing is in direct conflict with the high society that populates her husband’s world.

Stella’s refusal to assimilate into that world ultimately leads to marital unhappiness and divorce. When Stephen remarries, this time to the respectable widow, Helen Morrison (Barbara O’Neil), Stella devotes herself to smothering Laurel. The two become inseparable. But after an embarrassing incident while on holiday at a ritzy seaside resort, Stella comes to the realization that her only child would be better off without her.

Director King Vidor keeps the pacing of this four hanky tearjerker swift and smooth, tugging at the heart strings but never in a way that is obvious or cliché. His staging of Stella’s sacrifice, standing outside the window in the pouring rain while her daughter achieves everything she would have hoped and dreamed of, is both heartwarming and heartrending. This is remarkable film-making and a stellar example of the studio system with all its pistons firing.

MGM DVD’s transfer of Stella Dallas is only a marginal improvement over the original release through HBO. Though the gray scale is quite pleasing throughout, there is an excessive amount of film grain for a very gritty quality that is, at times, quite unflattering. Blacks are solid. Fine details are generally nicely realized. There’s a hint of digital grit for a picture that is not very smooth over all, though after watching the first 15 minutes one tends to get lost in the performances and forgo the substandard presentation. The audio is mono and generally nicely balanced. There are NO extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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