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83 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review for 2-Movie Special Edition
Having studied the 1959 version of "Imitation of Life" in film class, it has become one of my favorite films, one that is rich with many subtexts that may not be visible upon first glance. This special 2-disc DVD set contains both the 1934 and 1959 versions based on a Fannie Hurst tear-jerker novel. Tackling a sensitive issue for the times (in both versions), these movies...
Published on February 16, 2008 by Dave

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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Double Feature. Great Value. Disappointing Transfers
I was very excited to hear about the release of the two versions of Imitation Of Life together on the same DVD. I had never seen the 1934 version and found it to be an equally enjoyable film as the 1959 one, although quite different (the main character is an entrepreneur versus an actress in the '59 version). The transfer for the 1934 version is decent considering it's...
Published on March 25, 2004 by Drew Salzan


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83 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review for 2-Movie Special Edition, February 16, 2008
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Having studied the 1959 version of "Imitation of Life" in film class, it has become one of my favorite films, one that is rich with many subtexts that may not be visible upon first glance. This special 2-disc DVD set contains both the 1934 and 1959 versions based on a Fannie Hurst tear-jerker novel. Tackling a sensitive issue for the times (in both versions), these movies deal with an African-American girl who wants to pass for white to have more opportunities open up for her. The girl's mother develops a friendship and working/subserviant relationship with a white woman who has her own daughter of the same age. How the two women function in their environments and the conflicts that occur due to the daughter's "passing" constitute the basis of both stories.

The 1934 film stars Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers as the mothers. The film seems very dated and old fashioned on the surface; watching it a 2nd time with the commentary track is very beneficial. Avery Clayton, an African-American Cultural Scholar, gives slight information on the making of the film, but gives the story plenty of explanation of the subtexts and is very helpful in putting some of the slightly offensive elements into the context of the times that the film was made. Beavers' character becomes the icon for Aunt Delilah's pancake mix, a thinly veiled version of Aunt Jemima. Colbert's character is given the idea to market Delilah's recipe and the two become rich; the fact that Beaver's character doesn't want any of the riches and is actually afraid NOT to be in a subserviant role to Colbert is somewhat uncomfortable. Colbert gives her typical warm performance and even today, she is a joy to watch. The rest of the film does seem very dated. Interestingly enough, Fredi Washington, an African-American actress, portrays Beaver's daughter; in the 1959 version, Susan Kohner, of Latino background, was the one who won that plum role.

The 1959 version still holds up well; granted, it is somewhat over the top with some of the plot & Lana Turner's performance. However, director Douglas Sirk was able to put in so many rich subtexts and subtle critiques that this film can be watched multiple times without catching all of them. There was a battle going on between Sirk wanting an honest crititque of the times, and producer Ross Hunter wanting a glossy soap opera. This film was dismissed as a tawdry melodrama and labeled a dud by critics initially, but has become a cinema classic in the years that followed. Juanita Moore's performance as the African-American maid is one of the keys to the success of the film, and the rest of the casting is brillant: Turner, Sandra Dee, Kohner, and John Gavin. You'll also see a cameo by Sandra Gould, who later achieved minor fame as the 2nd Gladys Kravitz in TV's "Bewitched." For the 1959 film, the story is that Lana Turner plays an actress seeking fame, and Moore's character plays her maid and companion. Thankfully, there is no Aunt Delilah business here. Many of the scenes are powerhouses of acting: the final scene between mother and daughter when Moore agrees to let her daughter live her life as a white woman is a guaranteed tear-jerker. Turner also gives one of her best (if not most hysterical) performances during Annie's death scene. The commentary for this version is by Foster Hirsch, a film historian. As with Clayton's, his commentary is mainly limited to examining the film itself, not so much the making of the film. There are a few facts that he shares from his friendships with Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore that are very interesting, but overall, his commentary helps to pick out the hidden meanings that Sirk placed throughout.

There is a short featurette calls "Lasting Legacy - An Imitation of Life" that talks about both films. Juanita Moore and respected film historians are on hand to talk about the movies. The featurette is very well done, but does leave one wishing there were more to it. It is approximately half an hour long.

The quality of both films is fairly good; neither one looks like it came from the original negative, but they are both relatively clean and appear to have had some minor restoration work.

This 2-Disc set is a real value, and highly recommended for those who love to study film.
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59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The original, and still the best version, November 20, 2002
This review is from: Imitation of Life [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Most viewers are far more familiar with the campy, 1959 version of this film, starring Lana Turner. But, this is the original version, and I find it far superior to the remake for so many reasons.
First of all, it takes place in the early 1930's, putting us smack dab in the Depression, and a time period which suits the subject matter. Claudette Colbert, a much better actress than Lana Turner, is one of the first reasons I prefer this version. But, mainly, the incredible Louise Beavers is absolutely unforgettable as the black maid, Delilah Johnson, whose light-skinned daughter, Peola, is raised alongside Colbert's daughter, Jessie.
When the girls grow up, Peola realizes that she can "pass" for white, and in the 1930's, with racism and joblessness rampant, her choice makes sense, for the times. When Peola, played by Fredi Washington, completely rejects her mother, it is heartbreaking. To see Louise Beavers sobbing onto the counter in the department store is truly painful.
Peola breaks her mother's heart in order to fit into a world that would not accept her otherwise. In the end, she regrets the pain she causes her mother. This is another time and place, and we don't hate Peola for hurting her mother. Still, our heart bleeds for Delilah.
The acting is top notch, and I will take this more entertaining and serious version of the film over the campy re-make any day.
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176 of 197 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The original is better then the remake, February 11, 2004
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This review is from: Imitation of Life (1934/1959) (DVD)
Finally both of these movies are released together. Most people do not even know the 1934 version exists. In my opinion the 34 version is the better of the two. Even though both are really over the top, at least the first version portrays the black and the white woman more as equals. The remake actually is more racist and condesending. The black woman in the original whose name is Delilah is a business woman not a maid. She is treated like a real person. Claudette Colbert who portrays the the white woman treats Delilah as a partner, her friends treat her equally. They actually try to talk to Delilah about her daughter and try to help her as a friend would not as a person who is pitied as in the remake. "Poor Annie" as Sandra Dee's character mentions. PLUS I find it insulting that in 1959 Hollywood could not find one black actress to play the part of the daughter, but way back in 1934 they did. Ferdi Washington. Delilah's job was not to take care of the white woman and her daughter. But in the 1959 version that was Annie's job. Also I like the story of the independent woman that the first version told. It is very strange how Hollywood has regressed. Because most movies would never be about a black and white middle aged single working women with almost grown daughters. The movie today would be more about the daughters then the mothers. Don't get me wrong the remake I enjoyed but more as a camp over the top melodrama and I do like the actress's in the roles. But the 1934 version was a better movie. The fact the the daughter tried to pass as white back in the 30's is more understandable then someone who would try to pass in the later version. I feel that is more out of self hatred and some bad parenting. But in 1934 even though it was not a right thing to do it might have been understandable given the times. In any case in both versions the daughters confusion was never dealt with. In the original it was mentioned that the father was high toned..a light skinned black person. I think in the remake I had the impression the father was white or "almost white". Maybe I should read the book. I took one star from these 2 movies bcause of the 1959 version. One last thing I love the fact that in the original version at the funeral in Harlem the film makers had the insight to include Marcus Garvey followers in the scene. They were a very big group in Harlem during the 30's and 40's. Marcus Garvey for people who do not know was a Jamaican who believed in black people being self sufficient and he had a back to Africa movement. I think the film makers of the original should be commended for putting in that little slice of Harlem's history in the movie.
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67 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great To Have Both Versions, February 3, 2004
By 
City Of Evanston "djpauly" (EVANSTON, IL United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Imitation of Life (1934/1959) (DVD)
Both versions of the Fannie Hurst book were filmed before the
Civil Rights and Black Power Movements so must be viewed with
that in mind.must have been controversial. The 1934 version is
quite dated now but was probably controversial at the time. Louise Beavers is magnificent as
the mother whose heart is broken by her light-skinned daughter who
wants to pass in the white world. Had times been different, she
might have beaten Halle to the Oscar by 70 years instead of being
relegated to 5th billing. Fredi Washington as her daughter is also escellent.
The 1959 version features a magnificent performance by Juanita Moore who received
an Oscar nomination for her work. This is more than a glitzy
Lana Turner weeper. Douglas Sirk use of color is fantastic and
even if the movie is hokey you can't stop watching. This double
bill is great for collectors who wish to have both versions.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Double Feature. Great Value. Disappointing Transfers, March 25, 2004
By 
Drew Salzan (New York, New York United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Imitation of Life (1934/1959) (DVD)
I was very excited to hear about the release of the two versions of Imitation Of Life together on the same DVD. I had never seen the 1934 version and found it to be an equally enjoyable film as the 1959 one, although quite different (the main character is an entrepreneur versus an actress in the '59 version). The transfer for the 1934 version is decent considering it's age. I was more disappointed with the 1959 one. Granted, it was filmed in Eastman Color so one could not expect Technicolor brilliance, but the transfer is grainy and faded. To make matters worse, the layer change occurs at the worst possible place, as someone is running down the stairs (as with all DVD's, there is a slight pause at that time). This is very jarring; what was the engineer thinking? Layer changes ideally should be placed between a fade-out and a fade-in of scenes. Considering the price and the content, I would reccomend this DVD if you can ignore it's flaws.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No other movie was so ahead of it's time!, November 29, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Imitation of Life [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers star in this 1930's melodramatic tale of two mothers struggling for their children. Colbert plays Beatrice "Bea" Pullman, a widow with a young daughter. Life is hard for Bea until Delilah Johnson, Louise Beavers,arrives with her daughter and becomes Bea's maid. Delilah cajoles Bea to give her a job as her maid. Bea discovers that Delilah has a delicious pancake recipe. Bea acquires this recipe, and uses it to start her empire; with Delilah getting a not so equal cut. However, this empire has a price for both. For one, the price is happiness in a relationship. For the other, the price is dealing with racial confusion. Ironically, their daughters serve them the check. No movie of it's time dared to go into the deep waters of racism and self sacrifice! This movie is said to be a "imitation", but in fact some of it's scenes parrallel to the sad realities of life. When Bea and Delilah retire for the night, the scene emphasizes the seperation of races during this time. Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers give powerful and underestimated performances in this movie. Colbert has a real and caring presence in the movie. Beavers shows suffering like never before, and she proves that servants have lives outside of serving. With wonderful performances by Warren William as understanding Stephen Archer, Fredi Washington as the misunderstood and confused Peola, Rochelle Hudson as the lovelorn Jessie, and Ned Sparks as the sarcastic Elmer. "Imitation of Life" blazed a trail for movies dealing with the triumph of the self and the power of family love.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars POLITICALLY INCORRECT SENTIMENTAL TEARJERKER..., February 11, 2002
This review is from: Imitation of Life [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Based upon the Fannie Hurst novel of the same name, this 1934 film starring Claudette Colbert and Louise Deavers is a terrific, well acted, sentimental melodrama that should be viewed with a caveat. It is so politically incorrect as to be nearly astounding. It reflects a paternalistic view of African-Americans that was reflective of the time in which this film was written. 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. Notwithstanding this, it is still a terrific film that was deservedly nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
Claudette Colbert plays the role of Bea, a struggling widow with a young daughter. Louise Deavers plays the part of Delilah, Bea's African-American housekeeper. She, too, has a young daughter. Both women are struggling to survive. Delilah, however, has a pancake recipe that is out of this world. Bea, upon tasting it, decides to market it in hopes of making their fortune. Delilah agrees to this.
Before you know it, they are raking in a fortune with Delilah's pancake mix. Bea offers Delilah a cut of the business which offer Delilah declines, preferring to remain with Bea, living with her and waiting on her, always the perennial mammy.(See what I mean!) While Bea always treats Delilah with affection and care, there is not a level playing field between the two. Bea lives upstairs in their palatial mansion, while Delilah is relegated to her basement room, comforted by her stalwart belief in God.
Meanwhile, the years have passed and Delilah's light skinned daughter, Peola (Fredi Washington), clearly knows the score. She 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 Delilah's heart by doing this and when Delilah dies, ostensibly of a broken heart, replete with Negro spirituals in the background, Peola repentently breaks down.
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. Claudette Colbert, Louise Deavers, and Fredi Washington all give moving, compelling performances, nothwithstanding the political incorrectness of the script. This sentimental tearjerker is a definite must see by those who enjoy first rate melodramas and those who simply love vintage films.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A 30s CLASSIC THAT'S WELL WORTH A LOOK!, April 2, 2003
By 
Amazon Customer "grenadines" (Buckinghamshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Imitation of Life [VHS] (VHS Tape)
I'd known for several years that there was an original version of the glossy, 1959 classic Imitation of Life. So, I was glad to get my hands on a copy so I could compare the two versions - the jury's still out on which one is better, though!
This original 1934 version tells the story of two widows and their daughters. Bea, played by Claudette Colbert, and Delilah, played by Louise Beavers. Delilah knocks on Bea's door, thinking that she's found the right house for an advertised maid's job. Delilah stresses how difficult it is finding an employer who'd accept her and her daughter as part of the deal. Bea offers Delilah a job on a trial basis, but her kind demeanour quickly grows on Bea, and Delilah ends up staying permanently.
Delilah shares her family's pancake recipe with Bea, and before long, a successful business is in operation. The two of them hit the big time, and soon have an affluent lifestyles (albeit unequal - Delilah still insists on sleeping in the basement). Heartache is just around the corner, though. Delilah's daughter, Peola (played by Fredi Washington) is so pale skinned that she passes for white and rejects her mother. Peola's melancholy persona and rejection breaks Delilah's heart. Peola feels that without her mother around, she could easily join the dominant culture.
At the same time, Bea's has problems of her own to contend with, but of a different kind. Bea and her daughter, Jesse, are in love with the same man, and this can only end in disaster.
Imitation of Life caused controversy when it was released in 1934. Even today, almost 70 years later, the movie sparks discussions and debates among social commentators. Some complained that the maid stereotype played by Louise Beavers was racist, and is so politically incorrect. Think of life in America in the 30s:
1 The country was in the middle of the Great Depression
2 Civil rights movements were 30 years away
3 Racial segregation was ingrained in society
4 Film roles for African Americans were extremely limited
When you consider these points, the plot of the film makes sense. The performances by the main characters are superb. Claudette looks particularly elegant and decadent, yet she remains humble and grounded, unlike the flighty 'diva' persona of Lana Turner's character. Louise Beavers may have been restricted to playing maids, but she made the most of her part. She was the best mother Peola could have wanted. Unfortunately, Peola felt that she was the wrong mother for her.
The most beguiling character is Peola. Fredi Washington's life was something of a paradox. She was beautiful, green-eyed, straight haired and intelligent. At one point, it seemed as if Peola and Fredi's lives would merge. Fredi was encouraged to pass for white early on in her career. She refused. As such, her film roles were limited. She was far too beautiful and elegant to play maid roles, yet, as an African American actress, Hollywood didn't dare offer her romantic roles with the leading white actors. She was an actress that 30s Hollywood didn't know how to handle.
Imitation of Life is a classic movie that's worth getting. A note to UK viewers - you'll need a VCR with NTSC playback to watch this movie.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My Favorite Movie, June 21, 2004
By 
C. BULLARD "Charlene" (LANSDOWNE, PA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Imitation of Life (1934/1959) (DVD)
Everytime someone ask me what is my favorite movie and I tell them "Imitation of Life" and they are amazed. Why do I say this movie? The story is amazing and I love how the Mother is loving and caring to her daughter inspite of her daughter's rejection of her race and her mother. I love the relationship between the mothers and the daughters. This movie is a must have.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Double Feature, January 4, 2008
By 
One must remember that both versions of this film were produced before the
Civil Rights Movement so must be viewed that way. The 1934 version is
extremely dated at this time but the superior version because of the
brilliant performance of Louise Beavers. Fredi Washington who plays her
daughter is also excellent. Had times been diffrent Beavers might have
beaten Halle Barry to the Oscar by some 70 years instead of being relegated to 5th billing. The 1959 version directed by Douglas Sirk is superb and
is more than a Lana Turner glitzy weeper. Juanita Moore is superb in the
Beavers role and was nominated for an Oscar. This dvd with both versions is a must for collections.
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Imitation of Life (1934/1959)
Imitation of Life (1934/1959) by John M. Stahl (DVD - 2004)
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