I Found Stella Parish is a 1930s woman’s film, directed by Mervyn LeRoy. It stars Kay Francis as an actress who, after achieving the pinnacle of success on the London stage, drops out of a sight in order to avoid a dark secret from her past. The frame above perfectly illustrates the theme of the film in a single powerful image.
Stella (Francis) has just departed the stage (the public world) and the enthusiastic acclaim of her audience. As she is about to enter her dressing room, someone hands her a bunch of flowers, the visual embodiment of that acclaim. She opens the door, and a direct cut to the frame above places us with Stella inside her dressing room (Stella’s private world) visually and spatially dominated by the dark figure in the foreground. Note – the shadowy male foreground figure and what it represents (Stella’s repressed past) doesn’t enter Stella’s private world – it has been there all along. The dressing room is all white – as is Stella in her white dress and white wig, carrying her white flowers – all the better to provide a startling contrast to the darkness of the foreground shape. Whiteness here equals innocence and purity, Stella’s public face. The darkness of the foreground figure represents purity’s opposite – filth and corruption. (No one has to explain this to the film viewer. We have already been conditioned to understand these codes.)
This is the only time in the entire movie that we actually see or hear this figure from Stella’s past. And we never see his face. Thus, we never know him as more than a vaguely defined form (intentionally shot in softer focus than the rest of the frame) and a quasi-disembodied voice – which makes him all the more threatening. Moreover, he does not move. This translates into his being something eternal, a phantom that, though no longer visible, will continue to haunt Stella throughout the remainder of the film.
At the back of the frame are two portals. The door, frame right, is a portal from Stella’s dressing room, her private experience of herself – i.e., her ego – to the public world. The mirror, frame left, visually linked to the shadow directly in front of it, seems like a portal from Stella’s dressing room/ego to her unconscious – from which such shadows and other monsters may emerge.