7.6/10
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63 user 28 critic

Imitation of Life (1934)

A struggling widow and her daughter take in a black housekeeper and her fair-skinned daughter; the two women start a successful business, but face familial, identity, and racial issues along the way.

Director:

John M. Stahl

Writers:

Fannie Hurst (novel), William Hurlbut (screenplay)
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Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 1 win. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Claudette Colbert ... Beatrice Pullman
Warren William ... Stephen Archer
Rochelle Hudson ... Jessie Pullman
Ned Sparks ... Elmer Smith
Louise Beavers ... Delilah Johnson
Fredi Washington ... Peola Johnson
Juanita Quigley ... Baby Jessie Pullman (as Baby Jane)
Alan Hale ... Martin the Furniture Man
Henry Armetta ... The Painter
Wyndham Standing ... Jarvis the Butler
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Storyline

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

Taglines:

Brought Back to thrill you again! Fannie Hurst's stirring drama of a mother and a daughter in love with the same man. (re-release) See more »

Genres:

Drama | Romance

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

26 November 1934 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Imitación de la vida See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Universal Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Although cast as the daughter of Louise Beavers (Delilah), Fredi Washington (Peola, age 19) was in reality less than two years younger than her onscreen mother. She was, however, considerably slimmer than the matronly Beavers, which enabled the pair to "pass" as mother and daughter. See more »

Goofs

Steven Archer tells Bea Pullman what it's like on his boat: "in 10 days you could be drifting in a tropic sea," where they'd "guide past mysterious little islands, black and silent...and on the shore breeze, that'd come to you, the perfume of warm lands--hyacinth, and jasmine..." Hyacinths originally come from Turkey, not commonly thought of as the "tropics," were part of Greek mythology,and now come commonly from the Netherlands, or possibly the UK....neither considered the "tropics" either. To be located in the tropics, you must be in that area between 23 1/2 degrees N and S of the equator. None of the countries associated with hyacinths fall in those areas. Hyacinths don't fill the air with their scent either, especially enough to perfume the air offshore. See more »

Quotes

Beatrice 'Bea' Pullman: I've got Jessie... and you've got Peola.
Delilah Johnson: Yes'm. I've got Peola, Miss Bea. What am I gonna' do about that poor child? She's so unhappy.
Beatrice 'Bea' Pullman: You know, Delilah, I've been wondering, if it might be better if you could send Peola to one of those good colleges in the South - for colored people. Where she could finish her education, and where she wouldn't be faced with the problem of "white" all the time. You know what a disaster her schooling has been here.
Delilah Johnson: Yes'm...
See more »

Crazy Credits

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

Alternate Versions

The original theatrical release print of Imitation of Life featured different title cards, including a title card containing a brief prologue, which read: "Atlantic City, in 1919, was not just a boardwalk, rolling-chairs and expensive hotels where bridal couples spent their honeymoons. A few blocks from the gaiety of the famous boardwalk, permanent citizens of the town lived and worked and reared families just like people in less glamorous cities." When the film was reissued by Universal in 1938, the title cards were changed, and the prologue card was removed. All current prints of the film, including those used for the VHS and DVD releases, are struck from the 1938 re-release version. See more »

Connections

Featured in I Am Not Your Negro (2016) See more »

Soundtracks

Nobody Knows de Trouble I've Seen
(uncredited)
Traditional Negro Spiritual
Lyrics by Henry Thacker Burleigh
Played and sung by an offscreen chorus during the opening credits
Played as background music often
See more »

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User Reviews

Yes, it is a classic
18 February 2003 | by YoPecSee all my reviews

I hope this film will be restored and put on DVD soon. It is a classic and a worthy addition to the film buff's library. Imitation of Life is not a perfect film, but considering that it was made in 1934, it deserves recognition. The film tells of two women, one white one black. Each has a daughter. Single moms and interracial friendships in 1934? Yes, it is true that the black woman, Delilah is subservient, but this is true to the times and she should not be criticized for it. Both these woman want a better life for their daughters and work together to do so. It is a sad, but realistic fact that neither daughter is happy with the better life. Delilah's daughter is very light-skinned and wants to pass for white for she knows in this era that the only opportunities are for whites. The later version starring Lana Turner is a poor substitute for this one. Lana tends to over act and the friendship between the two women is severely downplayed. It is true that in this film the camera seems to pause on the actors' faces over long, but this I think is a holdover from the silent film era when acting had to be done by facial expression instead of voice.

While this film is flawed it is a good film for young people in that it shows the changes made in our society both for single moms and for blacks.


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