The Imitation of Life

Cover of "Imitation of Life"

Cover of Imitation of Life

The other night, I was about to retire for the evening, when I read a friend’s Facebook status – one of my favorite movies of all time, The Imitation of Life, was on. I have seen this movie fifty-leven times, but I had to stay up and watch it. Just to be clear, I am referring to the 1959 remake starring Lana Turner, John Gavin and Sandra Dee, not the original film, which starred Claudette Colbert. I love this movie for so many reasons (please note there are spoilers here if you have never seen the movie):

1. Multiple story lines. It seems that many movies of this era included several embedded story lines. Clean and simple story lines that described each character and neatly overlapped. So in IOL, the story lines involved:

  • Lora and Steve’s rocky romantic road
  • Sarah Jane’s denial of her race, and her mother
  • Susie’s crush on Steve, as well as her desire to have more face time with her mother
  • Annie’s obsession with helping Sarah Jane cope with her shame of being Black
  • Lora’s desire to be a great actress – putting that before everything else
  • The long-running friendship between Lora and Annie

2. The wardrobe – the fifties had the COOLEST clothes ever!LanaTurner3 LanaTurner2 LanaTurner1

The last picture also shows the cool furniture of the fifties!

3. The DRAMA – this was Hollywood’s heyday. All the acting was dramatic.

4. John Gavin…’nuff said! *swoon*


There were also some great themes in this movie:

  • Race issues. The original Fannie Hurst novel was considered quite controversial – a White single mother living with and being close friends with a Black single mother.
  • More race issues. Sarah Jane was a very fair-skinned Black girl who didn’t fit in with the other Black students, so she spent a lot of time trying to “pass” as White.
  • Choosing career over family and other personal relationships.

A more subtle theme involved racial assumptions. Here are some examples:

  • When Sarah Jane told Susie that she had a boyfriend, Susie assumed her boyfriend was “Colored,” yet still asked if he was. Because Sarah Jane was passing, her boyfriend was actually White.
  • When Annie mentioned her many friends and acquaintances, Lora said she never thought of Annie having friends, because she never brought them over or talked about them. Annie patly replied, “You never asked me about them.” Seems Annie was “a member of the Baptist church” and “belonged to several lodges.”

*MAJOR SPOILER ALERT* This is one of those movies that makes you cry EVERY SINGLE TIME, even though you know how it ends. The best scenes are at the end:

  • Annie is on her deathbed and begins giving her final instructions. She “wills” her mink stole to the preacher’s wife, and her pearl necklace to Lora’s daughter Susie, to be presented to her on her wedding day. She instructs Lora to give Susie “a real bridey wedding with all the fixin’s.” Then she wistfully looks in the distance and recites, “Our weddin’ day and the day we die…are the great events…of life…” (‘scuze me…I need to find a tissue).
  • Annie’s funeral service – a church full of flowers and mourners, with Mahalia Jackson singing a soul-stirring rendition of “Trouble of This World.” The white casket is loaded onto a glass hearse pulled by four white horses, with a band playing, all per Annie’s detailed instructions. “No mourning, but proud and high-steppin’, like I was goin’ to glory.” (That line sent chills…)
  • The penultimate scene – when Sarah Jane (who had run away to start her life as a “White” L.A. showgirl and had instructed her mother to not contact her again) runs up to the hearse as they close the door. She falls out over the casket crying out to her mother that she was sorry and that she really did love her. She then tells Lora that she “killed her mother.” Yes you did huntey, with your stank attitude and continual disrespect for her. But I digress…

This was the most emotional movie, full of drama and controversy. It is in my top 5 faves. I recite lines, I laugh, I cry, I want to throw things at the characters when they do something stupid, and I cry again. Classic film!!

(#31WriteNow Challenge: Day 2)


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