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Imitation of Life
Imitation of Life
Actors: Lana Turner, John Gavin, Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner, Robert Alda
Director: Douglas Sirk
Genres: Indie & Art House, Classics, Drama
NR     2003     2hr 5min

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Movie Details

Actors: Lana Turner, John Gavin, Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner, Robert Alda
Director: Douglas Sirk
Creators: Russell Metty, Milton Carruth, Ross Hunter, Allan Scott, Eleanore Griffin, Fannie Hurst
Genres: Indie & Art House, Classics, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Classics, Love & Romance, Classics, Family Life
Studio: Universal Studios
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 01/07/2003
Original Release Date: 04/30/1959
Theatrical Release Date: 04/30/1959
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 2hr 5min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 4
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
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Movie Reviews

A Memorable Guilty Pleasure
Gary F. Taylor | Biloxi, MS USA | 03/23/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Although little known today, in her own era author Fannie Hurst was among America's most famous authors, a writer who frequently challenged the status quo in both her life and her literature. Among her most popular works was the novel IMITATION OF LIFE, which first came to the screen starring Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers in 1934. Today both the novel and film would be considered somewhat racist--but at the time both were considered social shockers, dealing frankly with single mothers, rebellious daughters, and racial issues in a way that few novels and fewer still films of the era dared.The first film version was as faithful to the novel as it dared be, telling the story of two single mothers--one black, one white--who join forces and hit the big time when the white woman successfully markets the black woman's pancake recipe. But the 1959 film version substituted pancake make-up for pancake batter: the white woman is an actress, and with her black friend behind her she climbs the ladder to Broadway stardom. Director Douglas Sirk was reknowned for his ability with this sort of material, and although he did better films IMITATION OF LIFE is perhaps his most obvious stylistic statement: gallons of gloss, more soap suds than a sink full of dishes, and enough vulgar melodrama to fuel a thousand 1950s schoolgirl dreams.This time around our stars are Lana Turner and Juanita Moore, supported by Sandra Dee and Susan Kohner as the respective and rebellious daughters who make their mothers lives a living hell, with Lana's daughter Sandra falling in love with her mother's beau and Juanita's daughter Susan determined to defeat the racist society in which she lives by passing for white. All four actresses give it everything they've got, which means they all emote to the nth degree as they suffer through every emotional upheaval the screenwriters can devise.Turner and Dee are essentially Turner and Dee. The real surprises here are Moore and Kohner. Saddled with a story that still keeps the black woman in the kitchen while the white woman plays, Moore nonetheless gives an outstanding and ultimately heartbreaking performance, and Kohner matches her every bit of the way as the wayward daughter who makes one bad choice after another in her refusal to knuckle under to a repressive society. It is a tremendous pity that neither actress went on to equally high-profile roles and films, but the times were against them--as the very nature of the film's story should make abundantly clear.The original novel and film were actually advanced for their time, but by the time this version hit the screen the "white lady upstairs and the black lady downstairs" was hardly a rung up the ladder. Even in 1959 many denounced the film as perpetuating racial stereotypes and class-thinking, and by today's standards it is alternately distasteful and absurd. But oddly enough, that fact doesn't undercut the incredible watchablity of the film. We may sneer at some of the values it presents, but it holds our attention all the way, and you'll need at least three hankies for the film's conclusion. If you are torn between purchasing the DVD or a VHS version, you should know that there is actually little difference between the two. The film has not been restored for DVD, and the lack of restoration is quite noticeable; moreover, the only bonus material on the DVD is the theatrical trailer. You might prefer to go with a low cost VHS until a really good DVD is released."
Lawyeraau | Balmoral Castle | 03/31/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Based upon the best selling, Fannie Hurst novel of the same name, this 1959 remake of the 1934 film starring Claudette Colbert and Louise Deavers is a terrific, well acted, sentimental melodrama that should be viewed with a caveat. While not so politically incorrect as to be nearly astounding, as was the 1934 version, it still presents a stereotypic view of blacks reflective of the time in which this movie was filmed. It is certainly is a view that is jarring in these more enlightened times, as it reflects the nature of the racism that was inherent in our society at that time. Remember, this film was made before the civil rights movement took root. Notwithstanding this, it is still a remarkable film that will hold the viewer in its thrall.Lana Turner plays the role of Lora Meredith, a struggling widow and aspiring actress with a young daughter named Susie. Juanita Moore plays the part of Annie Johnson, also a struggling widow. Together they join forces, enabling Lora to pursue her dreams and Annie to provide a home for her own young daughter, Sarah Jane. Lora follows her dreams of fame and fortune, with Annie, as Lora's housekeeper, providing the stability of a regular home life for Susie and Sarah Jane. Before you know it, Lora becomes a star on Broadway. Along the way, she is romanced by Steve (John Gavin), who met Lora when she was still living in a cold water flat and he was a promising artist with dreams of his own. While climbing the rungs of the ladder of success, Lora is propositioned by her agent, Allen Loomis (Robert Alda), who, charmed by her basic decency and refusal to go the casting couch route, takes her on as a client, anyway. She also is romanced by a playwright, David Edwards (Dan O'Herlihy), with whom she forges a successful professional collaboration. Meanwhile, Annie still keeps the hearth fire burning at home, always the perennial "mammy", as Susie (Sandra Dee) and Sarah Jane (Susan Koehner) grow up to be two very attractive young ladies. Moreover, while Lora treats Annie with affection, love, and care, there is not a level playing field between them. Lora and Susie always address Annie by her first name. Yet, Annie always addresses them as Miz Lora and Miz Susie. Moreover, while Annie knows everything about Lora's personal life, Lora knows nothing about Annie's, as she has never even asked about it, something Annie points out to Lora. The racial divide is there for all to see.Meanwhile, the years have passed and Annie's light skinned daughter, clearly knows the score. Sarah Jane certainly has no intention of being anyone's "mammy" and wants to pass for white, as she does not wish to be relegated to second class citizenry. She does not try to do this because she wants to be white, but rather, she wants the advantages associated with being white in that time. Hers is not a decision based upon race self-hate, but upon a realistic assessment of how she could be all she could be. Still, she breaks Annie's heart by doing this, and when Annie dies, a part of Sarah Jane dies with her. Annie's funeral is also a focal cinematic moment due to the spiritual sung by the magnificent Mahalia Jackson. The film updates the original in a number of ways in order to give the film a more contemporary look. The part of Annie (Delilah in the 1934 version) now calls for less of a stereotypic "mammy" look. Annie is more of an black Betty Crocker, finer featured, trim, and a bit stylish. Yet, the very nature of the role is still stereotypic in that Annie is still portrayed as the long suffering, self-sacrificing, religious, black servant who wants nothing more than to make life easier for her white mistress. Annie may have shed the "mammy" look, but she is still portrayed as a "mammy" at heart. Moreover, Lora's relationship with Annie in this 1959 remake is stuck in time, as it is still the same as Bea's relationship with Delilah in the 1934 version. Interestingly enough, in this remake Susan Koehner, a white actress, was cast in the role of the light skinned Sarah Jane (Peola in the 1934 version), while bi-racial Fredi Washington played the role of the light skinned Peola in the 1934 version. Although the casting of a white woman for the role of a light skinned black woman may be puzzling to those of us in the twenty first century, I presume that this was done in order to be on the safe side. In the 1934 original, Peola did not have a white boyfriend, while in this remake Sarah Jane has an on screen white boyfriend (Troy Donahue). Although she does not have any love scenes with him, there is still the underlying concept of a black woman having a white boyfriend, and they do have a scene together, though it can hardly be called a love scene. I surmise that the studio chose to play it safe for this reason, casting a white actress in the part rather than a light skinned black one, so as to avoid actual controversy in certain parts of the country. This is, however, pure conjecture on my part. All in all, this is a mesmerizing film, both cinematically and historically, as it is a reflection of another time in which racial conflict was viewed in such a paternalistic way. Lana Turner, Juanita Moore, and Susan Koehner all give moving, compelling performances, notwithstanding the political incorrectness of the script. Sandra Dee sweetly handles the role of Susie with wide-eyed innocence. John Gavin, Robert Alda, and Dan O'Herlihy all give deft supporting performances as the men in Lora's life. Juanita Moore and Susan Koehner each deservedly won an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. This anachronistic, well directed, sentimental tearjerker is a definite must see by those who enjoy first rate melodramas."
Poor Quality DVD - Melodrama At It's Finest
Gary F. Taylor | 02/10/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Imitation of Life is a movie that had perfect timing in the changing world of 1950's Americana. The oppression of legal segregation had taken its toll and a prime example of this burnout is Susan Kohner's Sara Jane. This character had the perfect mother, but society told Sara Jane at a very young age that her mother would NEVER be good enough because of her black skin color. Sara Jane chafes at the limitations society places on her. She doesn't want to be associated with maids, chauffeurs or going through back doors. She wants more, and as a `white woman' she can get it. Many viewers who watch this film will be angry at Sara Jane, however, one must remember that 'black' was not yet beautiful, and this is the pre-civil rights era.Lana Turner's Laura Meredith asks Sara Jane, `have I ever treated you differently?' The movie makes this answer abundantly clear although Sara Jane answers `no.' The audience sees Turner's pigeonholing of Sara Jane and Annie. Even after years of living together - she actually says to Annie, `I didn't know that you had any friends.' Laura Meredith is a character that represents society as a whole in this film. She is the accepted race and therefore, pleasantly clueless about matters that doesn't affect her, while aiming for and achieving her dreams. Through the passage of time Laura becomes rich, successful, and a star - and for Annie, well, she remains the maid.The DVD of this movie is extremely poor. The transfer is down right dirty in one scene and grainy throughout the film. There is one scene where Sara Jane is running down the stairs and she freezes in action. Universal didn't even care enough about the viewer to put this common play-pause in a point where it would be seamless. This is a classic film that has been given anything but classic attention - extremely sloppy work from Universal."
Scott Barkley | Carmel,California | 12/07/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Hurst's best-selling novel was published in 1933 and Douglas Sirk took a modernized approach in the filming of his 1959 remake of the 1934 Claudette Colbert weeper (which was very close to the book).Lana Turner eventually becomes movie star Lora Hart in this version and her daughter is played by Sandra Dee. Memorable seens include Sara Jane (Susan Kohner) getting smacked by her blond boyfriend (Troy Donahue) when he finds out about her and magnificent finale whereupon Sara Jane finally realizes what is important in life as she gets hysterical at her mother's funeral service (complete with Mahalia Jackson singing "The Troubles of the World" A real tearjerker!"