Directed by King Vidor and produced by Samuel Goldwyn for Metro, the film stars Barbara Stanwyck in the title role with John Boles and Anne Shirley, earning a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Stanwyck.
The film, set initially after the First World War, follows the life of the daughter of a Massachusetts mill-worker. Stella has a taste for fine and fast living and ambitions to lead a better, if not more exciting, life. At the mill, Stella meets executive Stephen Dallas who has troubles of his own. His father, after losing the family fortune, has committed suicide and he takes comfort in the wild Stella despite the fact that he vows to marry his fiancée after regaining his fortune.
A long illness and embarrassing social situations make Stella wonder if she is able to give her daughter the life she feels she deserves. Soon, Stella is forced to make a difficult decision for the good of her child.