Imitation of Life (1959 film)  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e

Google
Wikipedia
Wiktionary
Wiki Commons
Wikiquote
Wikisource
YouTube
Shop


Featured:
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Enlarge
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Imitation of Life is a 1959 film directed by Douglas Sirk, produced by Ross Hunter and released by Universal Pictures, starring Lana Turner and John Gavin. It was Sirk's final Hollywood film and dealt with issues of race, class and gender.

The cast also features Sandra Dee, Dan O'Herlihy, Susan Kohner, Robert Alda and Juanita Moore as Annie Johnson. Kohner and Moore received Academy Award nominations for their performances. Gospel music star Mahalia Jackson appears as a church choir soloist.

The film is an adaptation of Fannie Hurst's novel of the same name. It is the second film adaptation of the novel. The first film was released in 1934.

Plot

In 1947, widow Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) dreams of becoming a famous Broadway actress. Losing track of her young daughter Susie at the beach (portrayed as a child by Terry Burnham), she asks a stranger named Steve Archer (John Gavin) to help her find the girl. Susie is found and looked after by Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore), a black single mother with a daughter, Sarah Jane (portrayed as a child by Karin Dicker), who is about Susie's age. Unlike her mother, Sarah Jane is a very fair-skinned African-American, like her father, and can pass for white, which she does with fierce zeal and fervor. In return for Annie's kindness, Lora takes Annie and her daughter in temporarily. Annie persuades Lora to let her stay, so that the widow can pursue an acting career.

With struggles along the way, Lora becomes a star of stage comedies, with Alan Loomis (Robert Alda) as her agent and David Edwards (Dan O'Herlihy) as her chief playwright. Although Lora had begun a relationship with Steve Archer, the stranger she met at the beach, their courtship falls apart because he does not want her to be a star. Lora's concentration on her career prevents her from spending time with her daughter, who sees more of Annie. Annie and Sarah Jane have their own problems, as Sarah Jane is struggling with her African-American identity and wants to pass for white because of its privileges in the society.

Eleven years later, in 1958, Lora is a highly regarded Broadway star living in a luxurious home in New York. Annie continues to live with her, serving all at once as nanny, housekeeper, confidant and best friend. After rejecting David's latest script (and his marriage proposal), Lora takes a role in a dramatic play. At the show's after-party, she meets Steve, whom she has not seen in a decade. The two slowly begin rekindling their relationship, and Steve is reintroduced to Annie and the now-teenaged Susie (Sandra Dee) and Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner). When Lora is signed to star in an Italian motion picture, she leaves Steve to watch after Susie, and the teenager develops an unrequited crush on her mother's boyfriend.

Sarah Jane continues to pass as white and begins dating a white boy (Troy Donahue). He beats her after learning that she is Black.

Some time later, Sarah Jane passes for white to get a job performing at a seedy nightclub, but she tells her mother she is working at the library. When Annie learns the truth, she goes to the club to claim her daughter; Sarah Jane is fired. Her rejection of her mother begins taking a physical and mental toll on Annie. When Lora returns from Italy, Sarah Jane has run away from home. She asks Steve to hire a detective to find her. The detective locates Sarah Jane in California, living as a white woman under an assumed name and working as a chorus girl. Annie, becoming weaker and more depressed by the day, flies out to California to see her daughter one last time and say goodbye.

Annie is bedridden upon her return to New York, and Lora and Susie look after her. The issue of Susie's crush on Steve becomes serious when Susie learns that Steve and Lora are to be married. Annie tells Lora of the girl's crush. After a confrontation with her mother, Susie decides to go away to school in Denver, Colorado, to forget about Steve. Not long after Susie leaves, Annie passes away, presumably of a "broken heart".

As she wished, Annie is given a lavish funeral in a large church, complete with a gospel choir (and a solo by gospel star Mahalia Jackson), followed by an elaborate traditional funeral procession with brass band and horse-drawn hearse. Just before the procession sets off, Sarah Jane tears through the crowd of mourners and throws herself upon her mother's casket, begging forgiveness. Lora takes Sarah Jane to their limousine to join her, Susie, and Steve as the procession slowly travels through the city.

Cast




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Imitation of Life (1959 film)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools