Tag Archives: King Vidor

XL Popcorn – Stella Dallas

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 882/1009Title: Stella Dallas
Director: King Vidor
Year: 1937
Country: USA

Here I am at the end of 2020, just a few days before Christmas, and I may have just seen the best 1001 feature film I am likely to see this year. There is a good reason that I put a limit on my consumption of films from this era of the 1001 list – this is so my era of cinema that, if left to my own devices, I would have burned through all of them by now. Instead, I am still able to discover something wonderful like Stella Dallas and performances like Barbara Stanwyck in the title role.

It is beyond sick that at the 10th Academy Awards, you had Stanwyck lose out on the Best Actress award to someone in yellowface. Just listen to the other nominees: Janet Gaynor tearing it up in the 1937 version of A Star Is Born, Irene Dunne giving one of the great re-marriage comedy performances in The Awful Truth and Greta Garbo in Camille. That is a stacked year and the award goes to The Good Earth – which is pretty forgotten thanks to the copious amount of yellowface.

Then you have Stella Dallas – a film where I was crying for the last twenty minutes and near on furious for the first thirty. Watching this in 2020 just makes me wonder at how ahead of its time that this film was. This is a time where a father will throw his daughter out of the house for staying out all night because of her ‘lost honour’, where a woman loses all identity once she becomes a mother and where the perceived lack of honour of a mother means a daughter loses all access to her friends.

Honestly, I like to think we are better than these times – but really we aren’t that much better, especially in the high society world that Stella wishes for her daughter. She wants her daughter to live in a world of comfort – a world that Stella did not know as a girl and always wished for herself – in the end though, Stella never fits in and becomes an object of ridicule and is the final obstacle to be overcome.

Is this a world that her daughter would like to be in? Sure, but she wants her mother more. She knows this world is cruel to outsiders, as she saw twice when her peers in the high society mocked her mother for her garish dress sense. The scene in the train carriage where both the daughter and Stella hear the gossip – not knowing the other one is awake – is horrendous to see and is beautifully acted.

In the end, Stella Dallas is the sort of 1930s drama that has always fed me. It’s full of great performances, fist-shaking social injustice and a surprisingly progressive idea that a woman should be able to be more… but society won’t let her. Stanwyck’s performance in the title role elevates the whole thing and makes this a classic.

 

XL Popcorn – The Big Parade

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 576/1007
Title: The Big Parade
Director: King Vidor
Year: 1925
Country: USA

Before I get into this film I just want to meditate on the fact that someone decided to name their child “King”. I had always assumed that King Vidor (like director Charles Vidor) was Hungarian and so his name will have meant something different. No, he’s an American man whose parents gave him a regal forename. As a former teacher I have seen a number of kids walking around with acts of child abuse for a first name… but somehow “King” feels like a league of its own.

Anyway, to the film!

The Big Parade is one of the most financially successful movies of the silent era (I believe the title of most successful belongs to Birth of a Nation make of that what you will). It stands as a landmark in war movies since, despite being released 7 years after the conclusion of World War One, it is decidedly not gung-ho about things. Instead there is an almost optimistic honesty about the whole proceedings whilst also having the main characters go through some of the horrors of war (probably the most famous being a leg amputation).

Having seen this film after Academy Award winners Wings and All Quiet On The Western Front it is clear to trace the line of influence back to The Big Parade. Wings still beats The Big Parade when it comes to a singular tragedy though (that final goodbye scene is still burned into my brain). Then again this really isn’t a competition to see who can be the most tragic…

One thing that’s really interesting, for me, was how this film depicted the warfare. It’s actually a very long time before we see any actual war in this war film. There is the majority of the romance sub-plot before any shots are really fired. The romance between the lead and the French girl Melisandre (who is sadly not a priestess worshipping the Lord of Light) is actually quite sweet and the way that the language barrier between them is told using the intertitles was spot on.

The war itself, whilst not as bitter and hellish as in All Quiet On The Western Front, does still get across the barbarity of trench warfare. It is just that, as I meantioned earlier, optimistic streak permeating through. Even when they have to have a spitting contest for the sake of survival you still have that first hour in your head.

The Big Parade is one of those movies that modern war films could learn a lot from. I get that, as a society, there is this need for some war films that either glorify it or are overly gung-ho. It helps us deal with the atrocity in a way that can be stomached. However, it’s films along the lines of The Big Parade that stick in the annals of film history.