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Monday, June 2, 2008

STELLA DALLAS (1937)

Barbara Stanwyck’s take on this masterpiece of masochistic motherlove gets to you, in spite of typically uneven direction from King Vidor, that frustrating mixture of magnificence & stumbles. Henry King ’s 1925 version, from Frances Marion ’s pitch perfect scenario, with Belle Bennett in Stanwyck's role as the 'no-class' mother and the astonishingly sympathetic Ronald Colman as the well-to-do father, is more focused, detailed and consistent. The soapy elements of the story (divorced Mom gives up her girl to her classy ex so she'll have a better shot at the best things in life) seem to thrive under the more abstract world of silent cinema. The dream logic of the best silent films allow the overripe themes of love, guilt, embarrassment & abandonment to play out unfettered. Stanwyck has a reasonably good cast to work with, but it pales next to the 1925 crew which boasts Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, 11 yr old Lois Moran and Jean Hersholt still at a fever pitch coming right off of Stroheim's GREED. Both films are classics, but the silent version kills. Guess which one isn't currently available?

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