Classic Movie Night Recommendation:

Imitation of Life (1959)

Wednesday, June 12th  

8:00PM (ET)

PhotoFancie2013_06_09_13_43_251

PhotoFancie2013_06_09_13_44_202On a busy Coney Island beach two mothers meet and become friends when their daughters become playmates at the beach.  Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) is a young widow with dreams of becoming an actress.  She struggles to make ends meet balancing auditions and meetings with agents, and caring for her daughter Susie (Terry Burnham, age 6; Sandra Dee, age 17).  Annie Johnson’s (Juanita Moore) husband abandoned her and their daughter Sarah Jane (Karin Dicker, age 8; Susan Kohner, age 19).  She has been unable to find a job, and the two are now homeless.  As an African-American, Annie struggles to raise her fair-skinned daughter who longs to fit in the white world.  Lora offers for Annie and her daughter to stay temporarily at her small apartment.  Days turn into years as the woman become friends and each others support.

Much of Lana’s personal drama was her own troubled relationship with her own teenage daughter.  This seems to be mirrored in Peyton Place (1957) and Imitation of Life (1959).

Much of Lana’s personal drama was her own troubled relationship with her own teenage daughter. This seems to be mirrored in Peyton Place (1957) and Imitation of Life (1959).

In the 1950’s Universal International producer, Ross Hunter, and director Douglas Sirk were creating women’s melodramas.  Some of these films included, Magnificent Obsession (1954), All that Heaven Allows (1955), There’s Always Tomorrow (1956), Written on the Wind (1956).  All of which are over-the-top soap operas featuring actresses such as Barbara Stanwyck and Jane Wyman.  When approached to star in Imitation of Life, Lana Turner’s career was struggling having been damaged by her own personal dramas.  In April 1958, her teenage daughter stabbed and killed Lana’s then lover, mobster Johnny Stompanato.  Lana was deeply in debt and needed to revive her career.  Hunter offered her a lavish production to star in, a remake of the successful 1934 film of the same name that had starred Claudette Colbert, and the chance to make a lot of money.  Lana chose to not take her usually salary in favor of a percentage of the net profits from the final distribution.  This chance paid off, and Lana made over two million dollars from the film.  Hunter lived up to his end of the bargain, from the opening credits with diamonds falling from the top of the screen, it is understood that this film is going to be lavish, expensive, and gorgeous.  Everything is big and overdone in the film, including the acting.

“How do you explain to your child she was born to be hurt.”  -Annie

“How do you explain to your child she was born to be hurt.” -Annie

“So Annie told you.  That’s how you usually find things out about me….Let’s face it Mama, Annie’s always been more like a real mother.  You never had time for me.” –Susie

“So Annie told you. That’s how you usually find things out about me….Let’s face it Mama, Annie’s always been more like a real mother. You never had time for me.” –Susie

Though the film explores issues with race, the real heart of the film is both of the mothers’ relationships with their daughters and each other.  From the beginning Lora is obsessed with becoming an actress.  When success does come, she neglects her daughter choosing to give her a comfortable life over giving her time and attention.  As a teenager Susie begins to resent her mother’s decisions, often turning to Annie to confide in and seek advice.  In contrast, Annie loves Sarah Jane refusing to leave her despite the numerous rejections by Sarah Jane.  Sarah Jane believes that being white is easier and will offer her more privileges than being African-American.  However, Sarah Jane’s are continuously unveiled, often leading to disastrous consequences.

“I wanna have a chance in life.  I don’t wanna have to come through back doors, or feel lower than other people, or apologize for my mother’s color.”  –Sarah Jane

“I wanna have a chance in life. I don’t wanna have to come through back doors, or feel lower than other people, or apologize for my mother’s color.” –Sarah Jane

Both Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore were nominated for their performances in the film.  Susan Kohner though fairly new to film came from a Hollywood upbringing.  Her mother was Lupita Tovar a Mexican film actress who primarily acted in Hollywood films.  She is best known for her performance in the Spanish language version of Dracula (1931).  Tovar also starred in Santa (Saint, 1931), which was the first talking picture produced in Mexico.

Annie: “I know lots of people.  Oh, hundreds. Lora: “Really?” Annie: “I belong to the Baptist church, and I belong to several lodges too.” Lora: “I didn’t know” Annie: “Miss Lora, you never asked.”

Annie: “I know lots of people. Oh, hundreds.
Lora: “Really?”
Annie: “I belong to the Baptist church, and I belong to several lodges too.”
Lora: “I didn’t know”
Annie: “Miss Lora, you never asked.”

Just as important to the film, is the friendship between the two women.  Annie is the rock in which Lora and everyone else in the film leans upon, and is involved in every aspect of Lora’s life.  However, though Lora acknowledges Annie as her friend, selfishly she knows nothing about Annie’s life and troubles outside of the house.

Much in the style of other films of that time that explored the acting business; this film explores the ugly side of fame.  After years of struggling, Lana’s character Lora finally gets a small role in a Broadway play.  She becomes personally involved with a playwright and has growing success with his plays.  However, life is not as perfect as she thought it would be, and Lora continues to seek happiness in career success.  Through her lust for success Lora loses a relationship with her daughter and the chance at real love with photographer turned ad executive, Steve Archer (John Gavin).  In 1952, Lana starred in another such film, The Bad and the Beautiful which also explored the dark side of the business.

Lora: No matter what it costs, Susie’s going to have everything that I missed.” Annie: “From her letters, she misses you more than she’d ever miss Latin.”

Lora: No matter what it costs, Susie’s going to have everything that I missed.”
Annie: “From her letters, she misses you more than she’d ever miss Latin.”

PhotoFancie2013_06_09_13_49_239Also in the film is Troy Donahue.  Later that same year, Donahue would have his first starring role in the film A Summer Place (1959).  Donahue along with Sandra Dee played young lovers whose lives are complicated by the actions of their parents.  Donahue like Dee would be known for teen melodramas.  However, his small role in Imitation of Life shows a different side to Donahue’s acting.  He plays Sarah Jane’s boyfriend Frankie who beats her upon finding out she had been lying to him about her race.

PhotoFancie2013_06_09_13_50_1310

TCM will be showing Imitation of Life (1959) on Wednesday along with other Lana Turner films from the 1950’s.  This was a complicated time in the career of Turner.  However, this film brought her some of her biggest success reviving her career.  Click on the link below to read more about this stunning actress.

Imitation of Life (1959) 8:00PM (ET)
The Rains of Ranchipur (1955) 10:15PM (ET)
The Sea Chase (1955) 12:15AM (ET)
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) 2:30AM (ET)
Latin Lovers (1953) 4:45AM (ET)

lanaturner_apt_678x230_052820131146

Follow the link for more images from Imitation of Life (1959).  Pinterest Board: Classic Movie Night Recommendation

Images from: Imitation of Life. Dir. Douglas Sirk.  Universal International 1959.  DVD.

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One thought on “Classic Movie Night Recommendation:

  1. Patti June 14, 2013 at 10:04 am Reply

    This is a terrific movie…a real sobber!! That funeral scene has me sobbing so hard I can barely breathe. (I love movies that touch me like that!)

    Have you ever seen the 1934 version, with Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers? Much as I adore Lana, I actually prefer the earlier version…it is one of my 10 favorite films of the entire 1930’s, and among my 20 favorite movies of all-time. If you’ve never seen that one, I highly recommend it.

    This one, though, is still terrific, and Lana’s acting is fantastic!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Gareth Rhodes Film Reviews

Spoiler free film reviews

Lesley Teare

Thoughts on design

Catch * all

an entertainment & culture blog.

Carleigh-Hepburn

a classic hollywood geek lives here

Travalanche

Being a web log for the observations of actor, author, cartoonist, comedian, critic, director, humorist, journalist, master of ceremonies, performance artist, playwright, producer, publicist, public speaker, songwriter, and variety booker Trav S.D.

The Blonde at the Film

a fresh look at old films

The Media Informer

Bringing you the latest reviews of all forms of Media

The Voices: FILM Saga Continues...

The Voices: FILM Saga Continues...

hitchcockmaster

Where Suspense Lives!

The Bogie Film Blog

A Film by Film Affair with Humphrey Bogart

Pre-Code.Com

Covering All of Pre-Code Hollywood Cinema, 1930 - 1934

A Small Press Life

Not just a blog, a philosophy

Nitrate Diva

Old Movies. Fresh Takes.

Vienna's Classic Hollywood

Vintage Hollywood films and stars

The Joy and Agony of Movies

Inside the mind of a film nerd

portraitsbyjenni

The views and opinions of a Midwest mom of seven

Let's Go To The Movies

My reviews and views on the movies . . . new and old . . .

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,260 other followers

%d bloggers like this: