Imitation of Life
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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.
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There's also the story of the 'overriding' ambition of the genteel white woman and the conflicts that ensue with powerful men, love interests and her daughter. Sirk keeps a good and pleasant pace and the acting is altogether solid, even if sometimes a bit big. Lana Turner, whom I only knew from photos, is a revelation and I look forward to seeing more of her work. Here, she displays a slick balance between typical mid-century femininity and a defiant, sturdy quality, that makes her very different from the fragile poo-poo pee doo persona onscreen of Monroe (a comparison evoked by their similar platinum blond hairdos). I was intrigued by Sirk's use of music. It features in many scenes as a background and adds to the 'glamour' of the movie. So do the sophisticated costumes and the art direction overall. I don't think the gloss and the rarefied circles of highly successful and rich theater people undermine the story or make it less real. On the contrary, they help explain the urgency of Sarah Jane's longing. She grew up in between these worlds but got far more of a taste of the 'good life' than her mother - since she, as a child, was not bound by formality and scripts the way 'the maid' was.
Oh, and the funeral scene with Mahalia Jackson singing Trouble of the World is just magnificent.