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Imitation of Life (1934) 1934

NR CC

The lives of a widow and her housekeeper are united in need, success, family and heartache in this original version of the classic story starring Claudette Colbert and Louis Beavers.

Starring:
Claudette Colbert, Warren William
Runtime:
1 hour, 51 minutes

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Product Details

Genres Drama, Romance
Director John M. Stahl
Starring Claudette Colbert, Warren William
Supporting actors Rochelle Hudson, Ned Sparks, Louise Beavers, Fredi Washington, Juanita Quigley, Alan Hale, Henry Armetta, Wyndham Standing, Monya Andre, Alyce Ardell, William Austin, Dorothy Black, Edna Bowdoin, Tyler Brooke, Daisy Bufford, Joyce Compton, William B. Davidson, Sayre Dearing
Studio NBC Universal
MPAA rating NR (Not Rated)
Captions and subtitles English Details
Purchase rights Stream instantly Details
Format Amazon Video (streaming online video)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This set contains the original 1934 and the remake of a movie that, in both releases, was considered to be socially groundbreaking.

I am not going to review the two movies because the reviews on their respective product pages to which I have provided links are far more articulate than I can ever be. Instead, I am going to compare and contrast the original and the remake and give some reasons why the films are historically significant and groundbreaking.

The 1934 movie, Imitation of Life (1934), is based on and substantially follows Fanny Hurst's 1933 novel titled Imitation of Life. The usual Hollywood liberties are taken when transforming a novel into a screen play. The 1959 remake, Imitation of Life, differs significantly in detail (the original characters have different names, meet under different circumstances, and the successes enjoyed by one of the main characters comes from a different avenue.)

However, while the details differ between the two films, the themes are the same, and the context the storylines are closely aligned to the eras in which the movies were made.

The basic themes are race relations, the meaning of being Black in American society, and women breaking barriers.

The 1934 version was the first film to humanize black Americans by portraying the characters as human beings who have feelings, aspirations and strong family ties (and challenges).
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Format: 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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Format: 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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