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Imitation of Life


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Imitation of Life + Portrait in Black / Madame X (Double Feature) + Back Street (1961)
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Editorial Reviews

Living a lie is a poor substitute for living the truth - sometimes it takes the harsh realties of life to help us discover who we truly are. The legendary Lana Turner stars in this 1959 version of Fannie Hurst's emotionally charged drama, which chronicles two widows and their troubled daughters as they struggle to find true happiness amidst racial prejudice. Lana Turner plays Lora, a single white mother whose Hollywood starlet ambitions come at the expense of any meaningful relationship with her daughter, Susie (Sandra Dee). Lora's black housekeeper, Annie (Juanita Moore), has troubles of her own as she faces the rejection of her own fair-skinned daughter, Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner), who abandons her heritage for a chance to be accepted as white. As years of selfishness and denial pass, tragedy strikes and forces the women to come to terms with their own identities. Moore and Kohner were both Oscar nominated for "Best Supporting Actress" for their stirring performances. This lavish production, directed by Douglas Sirk (Magnificent Obsession), was a critical and commercial success, and today remains both a testament to its time and a beloved Hollywood classic.

Special Features

  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Recommendations

  • Product Details

    • Actors: Lana Turner, Juanita Moore, John Gavin, Sandra Dee, Dan O'Herlihy
    • Directors: Douglas Sirk
    • Writers: Eleanore Griffin, Allan Scott
    • Producers: Ross Hunter
    • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
    • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
    • Subtitles: French, Spanish
    • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    • Number of discs: 1
    • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
    • Studio: Universal Studios
    • DVD Release Date: January 7, 2003
    • Run Time: 125 minutes
    • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (475 customer reviews)
    • ASIN: B0000714BT
    • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,866 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
    • Learn more about "Imitation of Life" on IMDb

    Customer Reviews

    4.7 out of 5 stars

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews

    131 of 140 people found the following review helpful By Gary F. Taylor HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 23, 2003
    Format: DVD
    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.
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    45 of 48 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 10, 2003
    Format: DVD Verified Purchase
    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.
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    57 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 30, 2003
    Format: VHS Tape
    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.
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