And this Sunday, my Lana Turner obsession continues....
IMITATION OF LIFE (1959): Cast, plot details
A struggling young actress with a six-year-old daughter sets up housekeeping with a homeless black widow and her light-skinned eight-year-old daughter who rejects her mother by trying to pass for white.
- Lana Turner as Lora Meredith
- Sandra Dee as Susie Meredith
- John Gavin as Steve Archer
- Juanita Moore as Annie Johnson
- Susan Kohner as Sarah Jane Johnson
THE VERDICT: ★★★ 1/2
A great performance by Lana Turner, an entertaining plot line, and lively characters keep his soap opera turning; watch it over the 1934 film.
So, for me, this film's star rating got bumped up just a bit after watching the original 1934 version of this film. The 1934 version stars Claudette Colbert, whom I love, but being made in the thirties it is much more blatantly racist whereas this film, being made on the verge of the Civil Rights Movement, seems to combat the issue more. In general I don't find old films racist except African Americans are playing the stereotypical roles, which is not right but usually their employers have respect for them and there are no derogatory lines. Whereas Claudette's character has obvious respect for her housekeeper in the original, there are some ugly sexist ("What use is algebra to a girl?") and racist (the little girl mistakes the African American housekeeper upon first meeting her for a "horsie") lines. So I'd say totally skip the 1934 version; Claudette is great but it is simply a film that does not age at all with modern audiences & the 1959 version is a much better option.
I was watching the 1934 one on Youtube, and whilst strolling through the comments, I came across one that said "This is even more racist than the newer one!" Which I thought was weird because I didn't really find this movie racist. Lana Turner's character has a lot of respect and affection for her housekeeper, Annie, and so does her daughter, who refers to Annie as her "aunt." The only racist one in this movie is honestly Annie's black daughter, and whenever she says something cruel to her mother Lana's character Lora steps into rebuke her, etc. As well as SPOILER at the end of the film, after Annie's death, whites and blacks desegregate to celebrate her life.
So compared to the 1934 one, this movie seems like an advertisement for Civil Rights. That being said, I'll get onto the actual film.
This was the movie that brought back Lana Turner's career after the 1957 scandal in which her teenage daughter accidentally killed her gangster boyfriend. Well, though I wasn't crazy about the movie as a whole, I really did like her in this. (I'm sure that's not a surprise to anyone). I'm absolutely enthralled with Lana; she's such an adorable sweetheart, really! She was lovely in this, she made me cry at the end of the film; I'm really enjoying these movies of the soap operish quality of hers. I bought Madame X (1966) over the weekend and I hope to see it soon, so we'll see how that goes. I do love Claudette but Lana won my heart in the battle of the two performances.
John Gavin, who was familiar to me from Psycho (1960), was good though throughout the film he and Lana are engaged in an on and off relationship that I couldn't really comprehend. But over all I thought he was good and satisfied what his role called for. I also thought Sandra Dee was good, if not a little bit too enthusiastic and peppy, but I suppose that is alright as Sandra Dee hails from, you know, Gidget. (Well, actually, the only other thing I've seen Sandra in is A Summer Place which was a far cry from Gidget or even the character in this movie but the point still stands... y'know.)
I loved Jaunita Moore as the housekeeper, Annie. The character itself is wonderful and you can understand why everyone - white, black, green, or blue - loves her. Just the whole time through I kept paining and paining for her, and I couldn't stand watching her daughter treat her the way she did. Which brings me to the daughter, Sarah Jane. Oh my, her character was such a total and utter b*tch I just wanted to throw something at the screen. Sarah Jane is black, but she looks totally white, and she wants to 'pass', and in doing so, give up her mother. She was just so utterly notorious and frustrating and I honestly wanted her mom to just give up on her and let her go live her life as a prostitute or whatever it is that she wanted to be. The actress was good though, because the character was just so awful, but I don't understand why a light skinned black actress couldn't have been chosen for the role. The actress, she was literally had a snow white skin tone in my opinion, I don't understand why a little bit of makeup couldn't have been applied to make her appear a bit tanner, like Jean Simmons in Black Narcissus (1947) and Natalie Wood in West Side Story (1961).
Though I thought several performances were great and Lana Turner made me cry in the end, this is not one of my all-time favorites though. For me, there were a few annoying indiscrepancies in the plot line and overly dramatic moments for me to absolutely ADORE this movie - but I'd much rather recommend this one than the 1934 one.
PHOTOS & TRIVIA
- Natalie Wood was considered for the role of Sarah Jane Johnson. (I don't know how I feel about this, Natalie being one of my all-time favorites - while I know she would have done a awesome job, I'd hate having to see her play such a terrible terrible character).
- Pearl Bailey was considered for the part of Annie Johnson.
- Douglas Sirk's last movie before retiring to his native Germany.
- A picture of Bobby Darin is used as a prop in Sarah Jane's room.
A MOVIE TIDBIT
This is kind of a SPOILER SCENE. You can watch the full movie here.