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Stella Dallas (1925)

Stella Dallas (1925) Samuel Goldwyn, Inc. Distributor: United Artists. Presenter: Samuel Goldwyn. Director: Henry King. Adaptation: Frances Marion. Photography: Arthur Edeson. Editor: Stuart Heisler. Cast: Ronald Colman, Belle Bennett, Alice Joyce, Jean Hersholt, Beatrix Pryor, Lois Moran, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Vera Lewis, Maurice Murphy, Jack Murphy, Newton Hall, Charles Hatten, Robert Gillette, Winston Miller. 11 reels, 10,157 ft.

Copies of this film are located the Museum of Modern Art, New York (16 mm), in the Cinematheque Royal Brussels (unconfirmed), and in a private collection. Sam Goldwyn remade the story in 1937 starring Barbara Stanwyck and directed by King Vidor. Though this version is also very fine, the silent version has the stronger supporting cast.

Young Lois Moran, between Ronald Colman and Alice Joyce. Thanks to Derek Boothroyd for these pictures Still from Stella Dallas
Still from Stella Dallas A lobby card.
Lois Moran meets a very young Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Still from Stella Dallas
Still from Stella Dallas There are added scenes for Joyce and Colman which are not in the remake with Barbara Stanwyck--not surprisingly since both were bigger stars than Belle Bennett.
Another lobby card Still from Stella Dallas
Still from Stella Dallas The second Mrs. Dallas comforts Stella.
Another lobby card. Still from Stella Dallas
Still from Stella Dallas Probably guessing she'd want about 5 lumps.
Another lobby card. Still from Stella Dallas

Review from Variety
Review from Moving Picture World
Viewing Comments
Further reading

Review from Variety, November 18, 1925

Stella Dallas

Samuel Goldwyn production directed by Henry King. Adapted from Olive H. Prouty's novel of the same name by Frances Marion. Cameraed by Arthur Edeson. At the Apollo, New York, for special run beginning Nov. 15. Running time, 108 min.

Stella Dallas Belle Bennett
Stephen Dallas Ronald Colman
Helen Morrison Alice Joyce
Ed Munn Jean Hersholt
Laurel Dallas Lois Moran
Richard Grovesnor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Miss Philiburn Vera Lewis
Mrs. Grovesnor Beatrix Prior

A mother picture. Not a great picture, but a great mother picture.

Samuel Goldwyn undoubtedly has the gem of its type the screen has produced to date in "Stella Dallas." Its sentiment is terrific. Henry King has told his story simply and directly without dramatics, gauging the extent to which he can play upon such an emotional subject to a nicety. In this he has been held up in reaching his objective by two magnificent performances by Belle Bennett and Lois Moran.

"Stella Dallas" is "a woman's picture." Women will love it. Men will respect it if nothing else, for the film demands and will get that recognition. This picture is hardly original in any way, King has even delved into the lore of D.W. to accomplish a beautiful love idea of restraint into the entire footage. It's effective, of course.

Watching this picture is similar to witnessing a small cast play. If ever there were a two character picture this is it. Both characters are women, mother and daughter. At least it's the closest filmdom has ever come to a two-people film. On that basis the strength of the story may be imagined when it can sustain a tremendous interest in these same two women for an hour and three quarters. True, the sequence gets away to a slow start and at no time is there superlative action, but the story is certainly the thing here.

Not having read the book, it cannot be said how closely the celluloid follows the original. However, the novel had an impressive vogue and it doesn't seem possible that the picture can have harmed or detracted from Miss Prouty's work. Its appeal is to the heart and but tells of a mother who eliminates herself so that her child may enjoy the advantages of which the girl will not partake while knowing that her mother has no one to whom she can turn. To gain this end the mother, Stella Dallas (Miss Bennet [sic]) finally goes to her husband's boyhood sweetheart and offers to divorce him so that they might marry and take Laurel, the daughter, (Miss Moran).

The child rejects the luxury, despite an idolizing father (Mr. Colman) and an understanding step-mother (Miss Joyce), upon learning the manner in which she has gained, returning to her uneducated, slovenly and grossly dressed mother, who is incapable of attaining the "class" instinct of her baby. The mother finally gains her end, after contemplating suicide, by marrying a drunken horse trainer who has been her suitor for year but for whom she cares nothing.

Early passages are concerned with Stephen Dallas outlawing himself from his own set because of a father embezzler who shot himself as a way out. Hiding away in a mill town, Stephen learns of his sweetheart's marriage, whence follows his taking the small town girl to wife. The inevitable separation takes place when their baby is around four years of age.

Sentimental wallops are a birthday party which the mother gives for her baby, then 10, with none of the children attending, because of the school head's seeing the mother go to a neighboring city with Ed Munn (Mr. Hersholt), the horse trainer; a fashionable summer hotel as cause for further humiliation for the girl, now a young woman, due to her being a popular item amidst the youngsters whose members ridicule and exaggeratedly dressed guest, not knowing that it is Laurel's [mother?]

Following this, King has made a touching thing of a scene between the mother and daughter in a lower berth after both have overheard a conversation describing the parent as a millstone around the youngster's neck. Other standouts are the scenes between the mother and prospective step-mother of the girl, the mother and father, the witnessing of her daughter's marriage through a window (The finish and excellently directed) and the loyalty and mother-love of the two principal characters.

This picture should do for Miss Moran what "The Birth of a Nation" did for Mae Marsh, what "Merry-Go-Round" did for Mary Philbin, what "Humoresque" did for Vera Gordon, and what one picture here or there has done for other individuals. Miss Moran convinces in what practically amounts to three roles, as she plays the daughter at 10, 13, and as a young woman. Excellent in each, her performance was something of a revelation to those who had never seen her before. There can be no doubt that Miss Moran has the advantage of what might almost be termed an actor-proof role, but that is not meant to detract from her performance, for the same might be said of the story and Miss Bennet [sic]. However, to the skeptical Miss Moran will have to prove herself in other assignments sustaining less sympathy as there have been too many one-role luminaries whose light dwindles with subsequent characterizations. But if ever a girl seemed to be "in," it is Miss Moran.

The same goes for Miss Bennett, who is doing something of a cinema comeback in this release. More latterly playing in stock on the Coast, Miss Bennett has here supplied the equal of any personal portrayal the screen has revealed during the past year. Much credit unquestionably belongs to King for the way he has handled this actress, and she is all of that, but the ability to quicken the pulse, throb the throat and ache the heart is majorly her own.

Miss Joyce makes a splendid contrast, while Ronald Colman is limited in his activities. Jean Hershort [sic] is prominent among the secondary players, with young Fairbanks acquitting himself creditably in his brief footage.

It is understood the picture will release through United Artists and that Goldwyn brought it into the Apollo for the purpose of giving it a whoop sendoff, maybe also figuring on roadshowing it. The idea of a special New York display bears out the reasoning upon the viewing, or the picture should draw corking notices and the word-of-mouth billing it will get should be plentiful and sufficient to keep it in at the special price scale for at least a moderate run. As a road show "Stella Dallas" looks to have more than a good chance if the price is right, at about $1.50 top.

It's bound to create talk, it's clean and superbly done from all angles. It is a surety as a program feature, for it's far better than such a classification signifies. The film is subtle enough to suit the fastidious and yet its obviousness does not detract while safeguarding it against a lower intellect.

To that end it appears this film can't miss.


Review from Moving Picture World, November 28, 1925

Through the Box-Office Window
Reviewers' Views On Feature Films
Edited by C.S. Sewell

"Stella Dallas"--United Artists
Samuel Goldwyn Picture One of Finest Ever Made, Is Truly a Dramatic and Emotional Masterpiece
Reviewed by C.S. Sewell.

Stephen Dallas Ronald Colman
Stella Dallas Belle Bennett
Helen Morrison Alice Joyce
Ed Munn Jean Hersholt
Laurel Dallas Lois Moran
Richard Grovesnor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Miss Philiburn Vera Lewis

Based on novel by Olive Higgins Prouty.
Scenario by Frances Marion.
Directed by Henry King.
Length, 10,157 feet.

WHAT A PICTURE! "Stella Dallas," Samuel Goldwyn's first release through Untied Artists, is truly a masterpiece. We unqualifiedly believe it to be one of the finest pictures ever produced. Frankly we doubt it has ever been equaled and are sure that it has never been surpassed in the tremendous sweep of its emotional appeal or the poignancy of its soul-stirring drama of mother-love and sacrifice.

"Stella Dallas" lays bare a woman's soul. We present the outline of the plot but mere words fail to convey more than a suggestion of the power of the story to twine itself around the heart. Upon the suicide of his father who has embezzled funds, Stephen Dallas, reared in luxury, forsakes his sweetheart Helen and hides in a mill town. Lonely, he succumbs to the blandishments of Stella. For a while their married life is happy and a baby girl is born. Stella, however, never rises to Stephen's social level. She dresses gaudily, her ideas and tastes are crude, her boon companion is a horseman of the coarse type. Stephen finally leaves her but allows her to keep the child, Laurel.

Years pass. Laurel grows up. Stella is brought to a realization of the fact that she is a drag on Laurel who takes after her father. Stifling the pride she agrees to a divorce so Stephen can marry Helen, now a widow, to provide Laurel with a proper home and "mother," but Laurel refuses to leave her own mother. Stella, deciding that no sacrifice is too great for her daughter's happiness, hunts up her friend Ed, now a drunkard, and tells Laurel she is going to marry him and send her to visit her father on the plea that she and Ed are going away for a year. Laurel resumes her romance with a fine young fellow and they are married, while Stella in the rain outside watches the ceremony and leaves weeping, but happy that her sacrifice has not been in vain.

From every standpoint the handling of this production is superb. It is true that Mr. Goldwyn selected a story with wonderful possibilities, but unlimited credit is due to Frances Marion who, in her scenario, caught the woman's viewpoint of a woman author's story of the depths of a woman's soul and conveyed this to Henry King who transferred it to the screen, retaining the tremendously vital and human note that distinguishes this picture. Their work, however, would have gone for naught without the truly remarkable assistance of the players.

Miss Bennett's portrayal of the mother is magnificent. Called upon to depict Stella at three ages, the manner in which she has registered the physical as well as the mental changes is remarkable. Without obvious makeup she actually seems to grow not only older but heavier. Some may feel that she overdressed the role, but Stella was that type of woman and the dramatic contrast of her renunciation is greater therefor [sic]. No matter, so terrific is the emotional sweep of the latter reels that the Stella that is unfolded there obliterates the earlier impressions. In place of the unsympathetic character as originally developed as she makes her a woman who so "gets" you that, contradictory as it may seem, you are made to feel that the ending really is a happy one, for Stella is happy and you join in her happiness.

Every bit as fine as Miss Bennett's portrayal is that of another Goldwyn "find" Lois Moran, as the daughter, Laurel. Both as a little girl of ten and as a grown-up young woman, her work is superb. Ronald Colman as the father, and Alice Joyce as Helen, are excellent but have little to do. Jean Herscholt [sic] as the horse trainer gives a remarkably effective performance.

There are a number of lighter touches, particularly in the first half, that are effective. This section is largely devoted to planting the groundwork of what is to come and building up the characterizations which are remarkably true to life. In the latter half everything is staked on the emotional appeal. There are flashes of the seamy side of existence, but they are quickly passed. After all "Stella Dallas" is a page from life itself, and life is not all roses.

This picture is a fine example of dramatic concentration, the story is carried along by a few characters, there is not the slightest deviation from the main thread, the continuity and cutting are excellent, and the result in a remarkably straightforward unfolding of the theme, holding the interest with unusual intensity.

There are many superb moments. The pathos of Laurel's party to which no one comes, the numerous emotional heights, the delightful bit of comedy relief furnished by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., just at the right moment to relieve tremendous dramatic tension.

We feel as if we could go on indefinitely extolling the merits of this picture, which is practically faultless. Many factors contribute to make it so, but after all, it is the tremendous appeal to the heart and the sublimity of the emotional force that distinguish it. Time and again there is a scene which makes you feel that here is the highwater mark of drama and emotion, only to be followed by another reaching even loftier heights up to the tremendously powerful finish.

There are few so blase that they won't feel a tug at the heart, a lump in the throat and moist eyelids while viewing "Stella Dallas and enjoy it. Its appeal is elemental and universal, for the mother's sacrifice can be understood and appreciated by all classes.

"Stella Dallas" is truly a masterpiece.

Viewing comments

Excellent performances all around in this classic weepie. Because the "star" names are essentially supporting roles, Ronald Colman's and Alice Joyce' parts have probably been built up to give them more screen time--at least the characters have more screen time than in the remake. Joyce is perfect as the gracious and refined second Mrs. Dallas, who, though a society lady, can still understand the vulgar and pathetic Stella's sacrifice for her daughter. No actress could have been a greater contrast to Belle Bennett's frowsy Stella, certainly that fine actress's greatest role. An outstanding film.
Print viewed: Print from a private collection screened at the Pacific Film Archives.

Further Readings

More information on this film can be found in the following sources:

Franklin, Joe (with William K. Everson), Classics of the Silent Screen. New York: Citadel Press, 1959.

Magill, Frank N., ed., Magills Survey of Cinema: Silent Films. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Salem Press, c1982

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Last revised December 27, 2018