Imitation of Life


Lana Turner, whose name I knew, though I’ve never seen her films, stars in Imitation of Life (1959), which shows the life of Lara Meredith a widow with a young daughter who aspires to become an actress. One day while at the beach, Lara loses Susie, her daughter. Frantic, she meets Steve, a photographer who helps her find Susie. I turns out Susie’s been with Annie, an African American woman with a fair skinned daughter, Sarah Jane, who befriends Susie.

Since Annie and Sarah Jane are homeless, Lara takes them in. Although Lara’s struggling too, she shares her home with Annie, though not exactly equally. Annie becomes Lara’s nanny/housekeeper, which made sense in the era. One storyline is Lara’s career success. She (almost unbelievably) rises to the highest level of the film world. Because she is so busy with her career, she has no time for Steve, the handsome photographer who’s so good with Susie, Annie and Sarah Jane.

Sarah Jane and Annie

Sarah Jane and Annie

Another, more compelling storyline is Sarah Jane’s life. She distances herself from her mother from her youth. She refuses to go to school when her peers learn her mother’s Black. As a teen, she secretly dates a boy and hides her mother’s race from him. Sarah eventually runs away telling her mother not to look for her because she wants to live as a white person, which breaks her mother’s heart.

The film’s pretty good, but dated. I found the acting rather stilted, but certain directors have their actors speak in a very stately, stagey way, which we don’t see in contemporary films. For some reason in Imitation of Life I noticed this more.

N.B. This film was a remake of a 1934 film with Claudette Colbert.