The agony of motherhood and wanted prosperity is the central theme of 1937’s Stella Dallas, in which “A working-class woman [Stella] is willing to do whatever it takes to give her daughter a socially promising future” (

Here, a novel by Olive Higgins Prouty became a play and then a Hollywood movie directed by King Vidor. Neither too literary nor too theatrical, the film is pleasantly pictorial and sensibly paced. And unlike the silent film made of Stella Dallas, which I’ve never seen, it offers the actors’ voices—naturally beneficial. One wants to hear and not just see Barbara Stanwyck, whose Stella is appealing and ardent but no aristocrat. Astoundingly, she can handle a great deal if not quite everything. It is a terrific performance.