Barbara Stanwyck, John Boles, Anne Shirley, Barbara O’Neil,
“I don’t want to be like me,” says millhand’s daughter Stella (Barbara Stanwyck) to the wealthy man who will marry and soon turn against her in this quintessential weepie. She’d rather be like “people in a movie, well-bred and refined.” But in this particular movie, breeding and refinement are reserved for other people, like her daughter, for whom Stella is both too vulgar and too good. A slattern and fashion tragedy, Stella is a model of maternal self-abnegation, ready to sacrifice everything to give her child a shot at respectability. For all its mother worship, the story’s attitude toward Stella, driven by class horror, teeters between awe and contempt. But Stanwyck is spirited and unafraid of ugliness; made up as a caricature, she plays a human being. The film’s ending, with the heroine bedraggled and triumphant, saying it all in the way she chews at her handkerchief, will have you reaching for yours.