Corbin Daily Tribune
February 16, 1990
Back in 1937, the late, great Barbara Stanwyck had one of her best roles as “Stella Dallas” â€” the brassy, self-sacrificing motherÂ based on the lead character in Olive Higgins Proutyâ€™s book. Now, Bette Midler tries the role in an updated version for Disney.
The moviemakers must have thought you could take a story from one era and willy-nilly adapt it to another. After all. single mothers are still poor and struggling like Stella. But Itâ€™s not that simple. The story depends upon specific attitudes about class, illegitimacy, sex and femininity that have changed drastically since the â€™30s.
This time, the drama is set in the late â€™60s. Barmaid Stella spurns the marriage proposal of a doctor (Stephen Collins) who has gotten her pregnant. Pride and independence color Stellaâ€™s refusal. with the story pivoting on how she has to raise a daughter (Trini Alvarado) alone.
Stella, however, seems to love this doctor, and he seems to be a good man. So her refusal of him reads as an obligatory plot development, not a credible outgrowth of the drama. Throughout, Stella does Improbable things â€” culminating in giving away her college age daughter to the girlâ€™s father and his wealthy new wife (Marsha Mason).
Why does Stella need to give up a grown girl? So that the mo\1e can reprcxiuce the famous tearjerker scene when she peers in theÂ window of a shiny restaurant, sobbing away as her baby is married to a handsome, well-heeled WASP.
â€œStella” provides a synthetic, cornball view of self-denying motherhood. Still. Midler is worth seeing in anything.