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Imitation of Life (1959)

 -  Drama | Romance  -  30 April 1959 (USA)
7.9
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 9,100 users  
Reviews: 132 user | 42 critic

A struggling young actress with a six-year-old daughter sets up housekeeping with a homeless black widow and her light-skinned eight-year-old daughter who rejects her mother by trying to pass for white.

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Title: Imitation of Life (1959)

Imitation of Life (1959) on IMDb 7.9/10

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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 3 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
...
...
Robert Alda ...
...
David Edwards
...
Karin Dicker ...
Terry Burnham ...
John Vivyan ...
Young Man
Lee Goodman ...
Photographer
...
Showgirl
...
Frankie
Sandra Gould ...
Annette
David Tomack ...
Mr. McKenney
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Storyline

Aspiring actress Lora Meredith meets Annie Johnson a homeless black woman at Coney Island and soon they share a tiny apartment. Each woman has an intolerable daughter, though Annie's little girl Sarah Jane, is by far the worse. Neurotic and obnoxious, Sarah Jane doesn't like being black; since she's light-skinned (her father was practically white), she spends the rest of the film passing as white, much to her mother's heartache and shame. Lora, meanwhile, virtually ignores her own daughter in a single-minded quest for stardom. Written by alfiehitchie

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

actress | love | friend | widow | model | See All (189) »

Genres:

Drama | Romance

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

30 April 1959 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Imitação da Vida  »

Box Office

Budget:

$2,000,000 (estimated)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

| (Westrex Recording System)

Color:

(Eastmancolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Natalie Wood was considered for the part played by Susan Kohner. See more »

Goofs

The type of desk telephone in Robert Alda's 1947 office was not developed until the mid-1950s. See more »

Quotes

Annie: I'd be happy knowin' you're meetin' nice young folk...
Sarah Jane: Busboys! Cooks! Chauffeurs!
[Hmph]
Sarah Jane: Like Hawkins. No thank you; I've seen your "nice young folk".
Annie: I don't wanna fight with you, honey. Not tonight. I don't feel too good. While I get started on the anchovies, will you take this tray in to Miss Lora and her friends?
Sarah Jane: [sarcastic] Why, certainly. Anything at all for Miss Lora and her friends.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Juanita Moore, who plays Annie, is billed with the credit "And Presenting Juanita Moore as Annie Johnson", even though she had already appeared in many films. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Female Trouble (1974) See more »

Soundtracks

Empty Arms
Written by Arnold Hughes & Frederick Herbert
Performed by Susan Kohner dubbed by Jo Ann Greer
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Top drawer melodrama with many layers
17 February 2003 | by (Cincinnati, OH) – See all my reviews

Not only is this film one of the all-time great women's pictures, but it also is a visually and psychologically intriguing piece of art. Veteran director Sirk went out with a bang with this, his last film. The title refers to any number of subjects covered in the movie: an actress imitating people for a living, her daughter imitating her mother's romantic life, a Black daughter imitating white people, etc... (The title means more in this version. The "imitation" dimension has been heightened in this glossy remake....The original 1934 film already veered greatly from the book. By now, only the barest of story threads from the original novel remain.) Turner (an actress with imitation eyebrows and hair and, some say, talent!) plays a widow who drags her young daughter to New York while she belatedly pursues a career in the theatre. She comes upon a Black woman (Moore) whose own daughter is nearly white in appearance. The children hit it off and soon the woman has completely embedded and inserted herself into Turner's life. The relationship turns out to be mutually beneficial as Turner needs someone to watch her daughter and Moore has no place to live and few job opportunities. Eventually, Turner becomes successful, but she finds that she has sort of left her daughter behind emotionally. Moore, meanwhile, has an even tougher time of it because her daughter insists on passing as white (much to Moore's dismay.) Dee plays Turner's daughter as a teen and her bright presence brings a lot to the part. Kohner is the pale Black daughter and does a fine job displaying the torment she faces, often acting out towards the other ladies. Moore is an acquired taste. Some viewers see her as perfection; a doting, caring, loving, selfless mother who is rocked by the venom of her troubled daughter. Others see her as a pushy, bullheaded, relentlessly defeated annoyance. (In any case, considering the Negro condition in the 1950's, it's hardly difficult to understand why Kohner's character wanted to break free and get more out of life! Moore will have none of it.) Turner looks about the best she ever did, especially in the second half when a dizzying array of Jean Louis concoctions parade across the screen and she's dripping in every kind of jewel. She has many insincere and stiff moments in the film, but also has several great scenes including when she tells lover Gavin that she's going to make it and later when she's at another character's deathbed. Mercifully, her character's acting scenes are never shown....just the curtain calls. The film is a Faberge treasure box of interesting sets, lighting, color, costumes and shadow. Despite the relatively simple storyline, term papers could be written about the psychological behavior in the film and the irony of the editing and storytelling. Anyone averse to soap operas will have already run screaming from the room the moment the Universal-International logo comes up and Frank Skinner's gloriously sentimental scores begins to howl. Those who are game for some histrionics and glamour mixed with silliness and sorrow should be in hog heaven.


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