IMITATION OF LIFE (1959) C widescreen 124m dir: Douglas Sirk
w/Lana Turner, John Gavin, Sandra Dee, Juanita Moore, Susan Kohner, Dan O'Herlihy, Troy Donahue, Robert Alda
Douglas Sirk is one of FilmFrog's favorite directors, and this, his last Hollywood film, is an epic soap opera drenched in improbable glamor and mood music at every turn. The 1959 film is an elaboration on the more modest 1934 version based on Fannie Hurst's novel. This time around, Turner is an aspiring actress who joins forces with young black woman Moore. Each woman has a young daughter who develops, over the course of the film, into a beauty: Turner's daughter (Dee) resents her mother's success on the stage which takes her mother away from her; Moore's daughter (an astonishing Kohner) feels suffocated by her mother and tries to escape her heritage by "passing" for white (the "imitation of life" referred to in the title of both the novel and earlier film, which Sirk here broadens to encompass emerging feminism and American materialism).
The 1959 version of IMITATION OF LIFE was Universal Studios' biggest moneymaker till they released JAWS in 1975. It was also the number 4 box office attraction for the year it was released. Why should a silly women's film (a "weepie," as they were disparagingly called) have made such an impression on the movie-going public of the day? Check out FilmFrog's Archives if you want to know more about this phenomenon. In the Archives, there's a lecture that was given about the film which sheds more light on the intricacies of how Sirk manifested his vision and tapped into his audience.
Both Moore and Kohner were nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress.