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Imitation of Life (1934)

Approved | | Drama, Romance | 26 November 1934 (USA)
Bea Pullman and her daughter Jessie have had a hard time making ends meet since Bea's husband died. Help comes in the form of Delilah Johnson, who agrees to work as Bea's housekeeper in ... See full summary »



(novel), (screenplay)

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Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 1 win. See more awards »



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Complete credited cast:
Fredi Washington ...
Baby Jessie Pullman (as Baby Jane)
Martin the Furniture Man
The Painter
Jarvis the Butler


Bea Pullman and her daughter Jessie have had a hard time making ends meet since Bea's husband died. Help comes in the form of Delilah Johnson, who agrees to work as Bea's housekeeper in exchange for a room for herself and her daughter Peola. Bea comes up with a plan to market Delilah's pancake recipe. The two soon become wealthy and as the years go on, their friendship deepens. Their relationships with their daughters, however, become strained. Ashamed of her mother, Peola seeks a new life by passing for white. Bea's love for her daughter is tested when she and Jessie fall for the same man. Written by <dbubbeo@cmp.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Claudette Colbert at her finest in Imitation of Life (re-release) See more »


Drama | Romance


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

26 November 1934 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Imitación de la vida  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Claudette Colbert and Warren William also co-starred in Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra (1934) that same year. See more »


When baby Jessie falls into the bathtub going after her rubber ducky, there is an obvious edit between her falling in and the splash of water coming out of the tub. Note the shifting of the towel and the shadows from the light coming in through the window on the tile wall behind the tub. See more »


Jessie Pullman, Age 18: After all, what's the good of algebra and all that stuff to a girl?
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Crazy Credits

End credits titled at the top "A great cast is worth repeating". See more »


Version of Imitation of Life (1959) See more »


Nobody Knows de Trouble I've Seen
Traditional Negro Spiritual
Lyrics by Henry Thacker Burleigh
Played and sung by an offscreen chorus during the opening credits
Played as background music often
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User Reviews

The one to watch
27 August 2012 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

This 1934 filmed version of the story, which is well written, acted and directed, is the one worth watching. The 1959 version, which is none of these things, has purely historical interest. And the historical interest is this: if these films are anything to go by, in the 25 years between them race relations and the filming-making craft in America both went into reverse. Concentrating on the treatment of race for a moment, while the rabbit's foot and the 'will to death' clichés about African Americans have gone out of the story by 1959, opportunities and recognition for their race are seemingly more elusive than before. The Annie character in the earlier film is a business partner (albeit an unequal one, a '20%er') of her white friend; in the latter version she is no more than her maid and occasional confidante. In the 1934 version, Annie's daughter conforms to the 'tragic mulatto' stereotype but retains personal dignity; in the 1959 version she conforms to the 'promiscuous mixed-blood' stereotype and ends in the gutter. Both scripts struggle to interconnect the relationship between the ambitious white woman and her daughter and the relationship of the black woman and her daughter, in terms of dramatic action, thematic content and comparative time on screen. Although the films place both relationships under the one roof, they run largely in parallel: problems of 'white folks' and problems of 'black folks' are perceived to be so separate. The latter version does worse in this regard. At least the 1934 version tries to bridge the gap by having the Claudette Colbert character go in search of the runaway Sarah Anne. Lana Turner's character just pitches in a few trite comments. This lack of emotional commitment robs the final scene in the 1959 film of any of the power that is present in the earlier version when Colbert goes to comfort Annie's daughter at the hearse. With its undistinguished supporting cast, a terrible score and sometimes laughable dialogue, the remake would, I suspect, have disappeared from critical discussion had it not for its 'controversial' subject-matter and the star pull of an aging Turner. The 1934 version still looks and feels somewhat brave; certainly it has a lot more heart and quality. The DVD's quality in sound and image are also good.

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20% of profits for a black woman in 1939.... unlikely_protagonist
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