Sunday, January 11, 2015

Silent Sundays: Stella Dallas (1925)

“She’ll never be nobody with me shackled to her foot.”

            My parents have sacrificed a lot for me and my three brothers. Making sacrifices in life, whether big or small, is just something parents do because they have a deep love for their children. I appreciate all my parents have done for us and what they continue to do for us. I will admit I am a selfish person and I can never imagine making sacrifices and doing things out of a deep love for another human being. I have never really been in love with another person before so that could be a big reason why I have that negative feeling. Where I am in my life right now and my circumstances I am totally fine with having that negative thought and feeling. I told my parents I never want children. Again it comes down to me being selfish. I am twenty-seven years old at the time of this writing and I have not experienced life at all. I have never had money or gone out to have fun and socialize or traveled. Whenever I am a little bit more financially secure I want to do all the things I never did and I do not want children dragging me down. Yet sometimes I cannot help but wonder what loving someone else so much and having children with them would be like. I wonder what it would be like to love something you created and feel all that love to the point you would do anything to make their lives better and happier. I am not a completely coldhearted person. I do like kids. My one cousin has twin seven month old boys both of whom I absolutely adore.
            If I ever watch a film where a parent makes the ultimate sacrifice for their child or even disappears from their life in order for them to be happy, I feel terrible. In a way I know that if I were a parent I would probably do the same. It broke my heart a bit to watch the silent film Stella Dallas and what the main character does for her daughter’s happiness.
            The story begins with a man named Stephen Dallas (Ronald Coleman). Stephen came from a family of privilege. One day the world that he knew it came crashing down when his father killed himself after news broke of his embezzlement. Disenchanted with his world he left it and ran away to a small town to work as legal aid for a small cotton mill.
            In that small town where Stephen ran away to, was a young girl named Stella Martin (Belle Bennett). Stella had schemes and dreams of getting out of her poor life and into a life of luxury and class. Stephen walks by her house and she asks her father why he does not invite the nice gentleman over. Her father replies that Stephen is the type of man who would never come to their place. Stephen actually does come over one night to see Stella and in time they become husband and wife.
            All is not as Stella had planned with her life. She does lead a life of privilege in their small town. She is well known around their country club. Her notoriety attracts the attention of a man named Ed Munn. He is a lowlife compared to the Dallases. Stella brings him home one day. Stephen of course is not happy to see the man and orders him out. He tells his wife that he has gotten a job offer in New York and wants to take their daughter Laurel out the environment they are living in. Stella does not want to go she has all her friends there. Stephan tells her he is going to the city and she can meet him there when she is ready.
            Ten years go by. Stella and Laurel are still living in the small town. Stephan is living by himself in New York. One day Laurel’s teacher comes by to speak to Stella. The old lady has been hearing rumors that Stella is to divorce her husband. If that rumor were to be true than Laurel would have to leave the school. Stella sets the old lady’s mind at ease for the time by saying she and Stephan are not getting divorced. The following day is Laurel’s birthday and she is going to have a party. Stella wants to go into the city to get her daughter nice birthday favors. Ed wants to go with her and take her around town. Somehow the old bat of a teacher follows Stella and Ed around the town. At night they see Stella and Ed enter a hotel together. She leaves too soon and does not see that Ed leaves the hotel Stella stays at alone. The next day no one arrives for Laurel’s birthday. A letter comes from the teacher that Laurel has been dismissed from the school and that is the reason no one is attending the birthday party. Despite there not being any guests, mother and daughter have a wonderful evening together.
            A few more years go by. Stephan comes over Laurel’s birthday. Stella did not know he was coming. She looks older and disheveled. She fixes herself up the best she can. Stephan wants to take Laurel away for a week he wants to spend time with her. Stella tells Stephan she had always hoped he would come back to them. Just as Stephan seemed to be considering what his wife had said, Ed comes barreling in drunk as if he was living there. Not long after the incident a letter comes to Stella from Stephan’s lawyer that her husband wants a divorce. Stella goes to her own lawyer. She refuses to divorce Stephan because she claims he knows he wants to be with his a woman he had loved before her named Helen Morrison.
            Over a few more years, Stella takes Laurel to summer resorts to be around nice respectable people her own age. Laurel meets a nice young man named Richard. They like each other very much. She has also made quite a lot of friends. Stella comes out of her room dressed outlandishly. All the guests who see her think she is a freak and very odd. Laurel was with Richard and their friends when they see Stella come walking over in the distance. Immediately they all begin to make fun of the woman. Laurel does not say anything. Instead she pretends she cannot find her watch and has Richard (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) take her out on the water again to be away from her mother. On land Stella calls out to her daughter and the other girls hear her. Embarrassed, Laurel wants to leave that night even though there is a dance she was supposed to be going to with Richard. Even when she thinks she is clear of the mean girls and their comments they happen to come on the same train. Laurel and Stella are in their bunks for the night. They both hear everything the girls say about Stella. Stella is upset by the embarrassment she has caused her daughter.
            After the trip, Stella goes to see Helen. She tells Helen that she will divorce Stephan so he can marry her. Laurel likes Helen and Stella can see that. Helen will have the last name Dallas when she marries Stephan and that is what Stella wants. She wants her daughter to be associated with Helen and have people believe Helen is Laurel’s real mother. The next year Laurel goes to her father’s house. She had believed she would only be there for a short time not on a permanent basis. She cannot bear to be away from her mother and rushes back home. Stella comes up with the idea to find Ed and marry him to get her daughter to go back to her father. The plan works.
            Laurel eventually runs into Richard again and the two get married. No one knows what happened to Stella Dallas since Laurel last saw her. On the day of the wedding Helen gives the orders to keep the blinds open. Dozens of people line the street to see what is going on in the big house. Stella is one of those people. Helen knowing a mother’s love is strong knew that Stella would be around. Stella watches her daughter marry through the window in the pouring rain.

            Stella Dallas was a good film. For the life of me I cannot understand why when all Stella Martin wanted was a nice life she just stayed behind and fell into ruin. The cast was very good. Ronald Coleman was not in the film very long even though the story began with his character. Belle Bennett I do not believe I have ever seen in a film before. I liked her she was very good as Stella. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was adorable he was so young. I enjoyed Lois Moran as the older Laurel. The story was not too boring. I was very intrigued by the character Stella Dallas because as much as she loved her daughter and lived for her, she was still a selfish woman in many ways. I feel as if Stella Dallas would be if I ever had a child. I feel I would be selfish and want to do things but I would still love my child more than anything and in the end would make a sacrifice like Stella did to make her child happy. I do not think I would ever want to feel that way it seems like it would be torture. Stella Dallas is a silent film I would recommend seeing at least once. 

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