In Stella Dallas, Barbara Stanwyck created one of the most indelible heroines of Hollywood’s Golden Age: a rough-around-the-edges millworker’s daughter who, even after she schemes her way up a peg on the social ladder, can’t quite shake her working-class ways as she does whatever it takes to give her daughter (Anne Shirley) a better life. This is 100-proof melodrama in its purest, most undistilled form, ruthlessly wringing pathos from its nerve-touching themes of class, motherhood, and self-sacrifice. Through it all, Stanwyck is a miracle, pouring every ounce of Brooklyn brass and just-below-the-surface vulnerability she’s got into the endearingly crude Stella, before going in for the kill with the titanic heartbreak of the impossible-to-forget ending. 35mm print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.
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