Monday, January 16, 2012

Stella Dallas

Stella Dallas
seen online via YouTube

The more I keep seeing trailers for Titanic 3D, the more I kinda feel like I maybe, MAYBE wanna see it. Viewing it on the big screen reminds me of the first time I saw it - and while a big part of its appeal, arguably the biggest, is the sheer epic spectacle of watching the ship sink, the tragic-love-story element is hard to resist too. (Perhaps I'll see it if there's nothing else worth watching.)

Melodramas have that uncanny ability to get under your skin. Sometimes it doesn't work, but other times it does. When I wrote about War Horse, my impression was that it tried too hard to sell its story - though, if I were to be totally honest, a lot of the classic "women's pictures" from back in the day were similar, if not the same. 

But you know what? I wasn't gonna cop to this, but I guess I will: I cut classic films more slack in this area. Why? Maybe it's because I expect different things from modern movies - a greater degree of sophistication, perhaps? I'm not sure. Maybe I'm just plain biased in favor of classic movies? Possibly. Either way, I admit that when it comes to overt appeals towards emotion and sentiment, I tend to accept it more in classic films than in modern ones. Perhaps it's not rational or consistent, but it's the truth.

So it was that Stella Dallas made a play for my heartstrings and just barely succeeded in giving them a brief tug. Barbara Stanwyck was a major reason why, naturally; my love of her is well-documented in this blog. The film's about a working-class chick who marries into high society and struggles to fit in, as much as she wants to. The situation gets complicated when she has a child who develops a taste for the good life, too. It starts off as if it's gonna go down a similar path to Mildred Pierce (which this film precedes by seven years), but veers in a quite different direction before it's all over.

Stanwyck makes all the difference, as you can imagine. In Baby Face, she's also a social climber, but she's much more devious about it - and more successful at fitting in as a result. Here, her character has a tougher time adjusting to high society, and that's where the heart of the drama lay, both before and after she has her daughter. The sacrifice she ultimately chooses to make is a hard one, but once again, Stanwyck makes you believe it - and because she's Stanwyck and because I love her, I do believe it. What more can I say?

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