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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Apr 22, 2021



WE FIRST SAW “Imitation of Life” in high school and we remember the title credits showing diamonds falling from above and filling the screen while the sentimental theme song is being played. 

We also can’t forget that we cried buckets in its ending. It was the last film made by Director Douglas Sirk before he left Hollywood and chose to retire at 60 in his native Germany. 

It’s actually a remake as it’s been filmed before in 1934 based on the 1933 novel by Fannie Hurst, a popular writer of romantic novels that were filmed, like “Back Street” and “Humoresque”. 

The remake starred Lana Turner, a screen legend of MGM in the 40s and 60s. This was considered her comeback film after she got embroiled in a much talked about scandal that time, after her daughter killed her lover Johnny Stompanato, a gangster who figured in a love triangle with mother and daughter. 

Playing Lana’s daughter Susie is, Sandra Dee, the most popular teen star of that time. 

But it’s not them who got Oscar nominations for their performances in the movie but the second pair of mother and daughter in the story, Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner.

They both got nominated as 1959 Oscar best supporting actress, but lost to Shelley Winters for “Diary of Anne Frank”. Kohner, though, won in the Golden Globe Awards.

The movie starts in 1947 in New York’s Coney Island. 

Lana plays Lora Meredith, a widow who lost her little daughter Susie in the crowded beach. 

Susie is found by Annie Johnson (Moore), a black single mom who had a daughter with a white man, Sarah Jane, who wants to pass herself off as white and cannot accept that her mother is black.

Since Annie and Sarah Jane are homeless, Lora asks them to live with them in her apartment, with Annie becoming a nanny for Susie while Lora looks for a job. 

The chance meeting on the beach makes their lives forever entwined. Lora’s dream is to be a successful Broadway actress and she eventually gets to achieve her dream. Both Lora and Annie later deal with problems of motherhood. 

Lora becomes too busy with her stage career and somewhat neglects Susie (Sandra Dee as a teener) who falls in love with her mom’s older friend, Steve (John Gavin), while Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner) just cannot accept her African-American background. 

She finds a white boyfriend (Troy Donahue) but he beats her up when he learns that she has a black mother. She eventually leaves her mom to become a chorus girl in a night club. 

Annie visits her but she tells her mom to leave her alone and just let her live her own life. It’s easy to guess that all this would lead to tragedy and the film’s tearjerking ending, which is big funeral scene with the legendary Mahalia Jackson soufully singing “Trouble of the World”.

While some critics then regarded “Imitation of Life” as a mere soap melodrama, it has since been re-evaluated and now considered as one of Douglas Sirk’s masterpieces dealing with racial and gender issues, told with lavish production design and visually exuberant cinematography. 

Sirk’s treatment of racial and class issues during that era is also commended, undercutting the story of the white mother and daughter and focusing more on the relationship problems of the black characters. 

The film is singled out for examining racism that time through the viewpoint of a white-skinned black girl who looks down on her own mother to be accepted as white. 

The weepy melodrama became a huge commercial success that time, making it one of Universal Pictures’ biggest moneymakers in the 50s and 60s.