Last night I watched Stella Dallas -- the 1937 King Vidor version, which TCM was showing in honor of Mother's Day. (Heh.) I'd long wanted to see it, ever since I first heard Craig Carnelia's description of the final scene in his song "Old Movies." (So I guess I can't say he never gave me anything.) It sounded like a corker of a story, and I knew Barbara Stanwyck had plenty of appeal, having enjoyed her steely noir dame act in Double Indemnity and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. I was prepared for a good time. But sweet baby James, Stanwyck is fantastic in Stella Dallas. I figured I could just half-watch it, soaking up the story with part of my brain while the rest was busy tackling my to-do list. And that worked fine, except when Stanwyck was on the screen (which was most of the time, since she plays the title character and all). Then I couldn't take my eyes off the TV. There are several reasons to see this movie -- if you're interested in the 1930s from a sociological perspective; if you care for meta-cinema (dig that date night at the picture show!); if you like a good melodrama; if you're a big Marjorie Main fan (and who isn't?) -- but Stanwyck's performance is all the reason you need.
I haven't got time right now to write another thousand words on the subject, and even this brief plug is coming too late for you to catch any of BAM's centennial screenings of Stanwyck's other films. But hey, that's what Netflix is for. You don't need an artsy atmosphere to appreciate the artistry of Barbara Stanwyck. And if it's lengthy criticism you want, I direct you to Anthony Lane's appreciation in a recent New Yorker, and this New York Times piece by Terrence Rafferty. They say it better than I would anyway.