- Stella Maris (1918) movie review: In a dual role, silent era superstar Mary Pickford proves herself an outstanding actress. Had the Oscars been around a decade earlier, Pickford would likely have been an early winner.
Stella Maris movie review: Despite its occasional creakiness, Marshall Neilan’s sentimental drama remains affecting thanks to Mary Pickford
Poor Stella Maris.
She’s a crippled girl (Mary Pickford) who lives her life under the generous protection of her wealthy aunt and uncle (Ida Waterman and Herbert Standing). They keep her propped up in bed in luxurious surroundings, shielding her from all the evils of the world.
She is an angelic creature, exalted by everyone around her. The sign on her door reads:
All unhappiness and world wisdom leave outside. Those without smiles need not enter.
Indeed, Stella Maris doesn’t even know there are poor people or hunger or war in the world until after she is miraculously cured of her handicap.
Life, however, has been quite different for simple-minded Unity Blake (also Mary Pickford).
She is a young woman who has always lived in an orphanage, only to be adopted by an evil alcoholic, Louisa Risca (Marcia Manon), who just wants to use her as a servant.
Louisa’s unhappy husband, John Risca (Conway Tearle), loves the saintly Stella, but feels a responsibility toward Unity after his wife nearly beats the girl to death for not bringing home the groceries.
While Unity lovingly takes care of John after he moves in with her into the home of his fussy Aunt Gladys (Josephine Crowell), Stella is shattered when she learns that he is already married to the wicked Louisa.
Unity’s story is one of my favorite themes: Poor waif tries to make a way in this world against all obstacles.
Having said that, what amazes me the most in Stella Maris is that Mary Pickford portrays this pathetic character so convincingly, with her head hanging low and her neck bent to one side.
Unity’s life is a stark contrast to Stella’s. Instead of a physical invalid, Unity is a mental cripple who triumphs over hardships Stella has never had to face.
In the end, Unity is the one who performs the greatest sacrifice for the love she has never known.
Brilliant silent era superstar
The biggest fault I could find with Stella Maris is that the cuts from one story to the next were much too abrupt – a problem that could have been improved by more careful editing.
On the positive side, director Marshall Neilan displays a brisk, taut handling of the narrative – adapted by future two-time Academy Award winner Frances Marion (The Big House, 1929–30; The Champ, 1931–32) from William John Locke’s 1913 novel – while the (dual) performance he wrings out of Pickford is nothing short of brilliant. If Oscars had been awarded in 1918, she would most likely have won.
As a plus, the Milestone Video release has a terrific Philip Carli score, which contributes enormously to Stella Maris’ mood and pace.
Stella Maris (1918)
Director: Marshall Neilan.
Screenplay: Frances Marion.
From William John Locke’s 1913 novel.
Cast: Mary Pickford. Conway Tearle. Herbert Standing. Ida Waterman. Marcia Manon. Josephine Crowell. Gustav von Seyffertitz. Teddy the Dog.
“Stella Maris Movie: Stupendous Mary Pickford x2” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Stella Maris (1918) Movie Review” endnotes
Mary Pickford collaborators Frances Marion & Marshall Neilan
For two decades one of Hollywood’s top screenwriters, Frances Marion worked on more than a dozen Mary Pickford star vehicles.
Besides Stella Maris, joint Pickford-Marion credits include and The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917), A Little Princess (1917), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917), M’Liss (1918), and Pickford’s final feature, Secrets (1933).
One of the top filmmakers of the silent era, Marshall Neilan also collaborated with Mary Pickford on more than a dozen features. Besides Stella Maris, titles include the aforementioned A Little Princess, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and M’Liss, in addition to Daddy-Long-Legs (1919) and Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall (1924).
Directed by Charles Brabin, a 1925 big-screen version of Stella Maris starred Mary Philbin and Elliott Dexter.
Mary Pickford Stella Maris movie image: Artcraft Pictures Corporation.
“Stella Maris Movie: Stupendous Mary Pickford x2” last updated in October 2021.