Imitation of Life (1959)
This glamorized remake of the 1934 film Imitation of Life bears only a passing resemblance to its source, the best-selling novel by Fannie Hurst. Originally, the heroine was a widowed mother who kept the wolf from the door by setting up a successful pancake business with her black housemaid. In the remake, Lana Turner stars as a would-be actress who is raising her daughter on her own. She chances to meet another single mother at the beach: African-American Juanita Moore. Moore goes to work as Turner's housekeeper, bringing her light-skinned daughter along. As Turner's stage career goes into high gear, Moore is saddled with the responsibility of raising both Turner's daughter and her own. Exposed to the advantages of the white world, Moore's grown-up daughter (Susan Kohner) passes for white, causing her mother a great deal of heartache. Meanwhile, Turner's grown daughter (Sandra Dee), neglected by her mother, seeks comfort in the arms of handsome photographer John Gavin. When Moore dies, her daughter realizes how selfish she's been; simultaneously, Turner awakens to the fact that she hasn't been much of a mother for her own daughter, whose romance has gone down the tubes. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi … More
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Critic Reviews for Imitation of Life
Imitation of Life is still a potent onion. When passed before the moviegoer's eyes, it may force theater owners to install aisle scuppers to drain off the tears.
While this device lends more scope, it also results in the overdone busy actress/neglected daughter conflict.
This modernized remake of Miss Hurst's frankly lachrymose tale is much the same as its soggy predecessor. It is the most shameless tear-jerker in a couple of years.
Forget those who decry the '50s Hollywood melodrama; it is through the conventions of that hyper-emotional genre that Sirk is able to make such a devastatingly embittered and pessimistic movie.
Douglas Sirk's 1959 film was the biggest grosser in Universal's history until the release of Airport, yet it's also one of the most intellectually demanding films ever made in Hollywood.
You'll be horrified at how this hokum manipulates you, but the best strategy is to just surrender and enjoy it.
[VIDEO] Set in postwar New York, "Imitation of Life" is a wonderfully deceptive film.
What [the characters] need most from their maker is something he couldn't have given them at the time: the 1960s.
Glossy soaper ahead of its racially themed time.
Douglas Sirk's last Hollywood film is the jewel in his crown, a visually audacious, powerfully acted melodrama, with Lana Turner and Juanita Moore in top form, that was misunderstood and dismissed at the time as just a weepie or soap opera.
Sirk immediately and deliberately acknowledges the film's metaphoric, almost pathological obsession with surfaces.
Review Imitation Of Life is another of those Douglas Sirk melodramas that no critic had a good word to say about at the time of their release but are now widely considered movie masterpieces.
The film is a biting critique of American race relations in the Fifties and a complex study in contrasts and paradoxes.
The ultimate Sirk film, the contradictions breaking the back of the melodrama genre for all time and Sirk gobbling up and spitting out his Hollywood career like a badger devouring its young.
Trashy remake of John M. Stahl's 1934 classic
Audience Reviews for Imitation of Life
A sweet and sour pie of the morality and values of it's time. Tasty, colorful in the outside, with so much hipocrisy, prejudices lurking inside. Its deep sensitive core could only be reached by Sirk's nobility. His lyrical and non judgemental treatment , helped by one of the best cinematographers that ever was, Mr. Russell Metty, and amazing performers, beginning with a surprisingly good Lana Turner (This and "The Bad and the Beautiful" were without a doubt her finest acting moments).More
Imitation of Life is sentimental without being sappy. It's also boldly allegorical without being preachy. I'm tempted to say that it was ahead of its time but, by 1959, it was long overdue.More
A soul chilling look at life and love, this film is devestating, extreemly moving and ultimately a soul crushing tragedy.More
Given her personal life, Lana Turner would seem ideally suited for a movie detailing the problematic relationship between a single mother and her teenage daughter. Indeed it was one of her greatest successes as she is excellent. The plot concerns Lora Meredith, a struggling white widow with a child who befriends Annie Johnson, a single black mother whose husband has likewise passed on. Driven by ambition to succeed as an aspiring actress, she often makes self-serving concessions in her life. Lora regularly relies on her new friend's assistance in raising her daughter, Susie. But Annie has issues dealing with her own daughter, Sarah Jane, who is so light skinned she appears to be white. This becomes a source of contention for the little girl, embarrassed to have a mother who is black. The story touches on everything from strained families and unrequited crushes to the casting couch and racial inequality. Melodramatic? Very, but in a tremendously enjoyable way. It does seem dated, but entertains despite, or perhaps because of it. Juanita Moore is most engaging as the selfless Annie. She's sincere, sweet and dignified. She rightfully received an Oscar nomination for her part. Also receiving a nomination was Susan Kohner as the daughter who resents her. Her performance, however, is much more overwrought. The script doesn't present her as fully formed a character in the way that her actions don't always seem reasonable, especially to a modern audience.
Artificial soap opera dressed up as exquisite drama has all the hallmarks of a Douglas Sirk Hollywood picture. It's colorful, glossy and unapologetically old-fashioned. At first glance it's easy to be mesmerized by the well appointed sets, lavish costumes, and cinematography. But beneath the stylish surface, the action casually unfolds as a harsh critique of contemporary American 1950s society. It's (thankfully) a subtle theme, one that slowly creeps up on you well after the film is over.
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