7.6/10
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63 user 27 critic

Imitation of Life (1934)

Approved | | Drama, Romance | 26 November 1934 (USA)
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

The script didn't get Breen office approval until the film was two weeks into shooting. See more »

Goofs

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 »

Quotes

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

Crazy Credits

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

Connections

Featured in Ebert Presents: At the Movies: Episode #2.21 (2011) See more »

Soundtracks

Home, Sweet Home
(uncredited)
Music partly composed, and arranged by H.R. Bishop from a Sicilian air
Played by the band at the end of the party
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Imitation of Life
12 May 2016 | by oOoBarracudaSee all my reviews

The iconic Claudette Colbert was the shining star in John M. Stahl's 1934 film Imitation of Life, based on a book by Fannie Hurst of the same title. Colbert along with Louise Beavers, Fredi Washington, and Rochelle Hudson join together to expose the hardships of women who must enter the workforce in a time when women were only to maintain households. In addition to the struggle of a family who lost their patriarch, the audience also experiences through the film the multi- faceted race relations that consumed people of color in the 1930's. The two intertwined tales of personal struggle create a window into the world of the 30's social constructs to engage a whole new audience in their complexities.

Bea Pullman (Claudette Colbert) becomes a single mother to her daughter Jessie (Rochelle Hudson) after the death of her husband. Struggling to maintain both the household and her husband's business, Bea is blessed with an angel in the form of housekeeper Delilah Johnson. (Louise Beavers) Delilah comes to Bea's door with a proposition to work for the Pullman family for only room and board in exchange. Delilah is not alone, however, she also has a daughter Peola (Fredi Washington). Peola and Jessie are about the same age and Bea doesn't have the money to hire a much-needed housekeeper; the arrangement seems like a fit for all parties involved, so Bea agrees. The two women become fast friends and eventually spring an idea to market Ms. Delilah's pancake recipe. The idea takes off and the duo becomes incredibly wealthy. No matter how much wealth the two accumulate, Delilah requests that she and Peola remain living with Bea and Jessie. The girls grow together, as much as they can, in a world strained by racism. Jessie, being afforded many more opportunities especially in regards to education, flourishes into adulthood and takes off for college. Peola, however, becomes a victim of intolerance and constantly tows the line between her true self, and the self she assumes when she passes as a white woman. Peola becomes estranged from her mother, due to her deep resentment of Delilah's dark skin. Mother-daughter relationships are difficult enough to navigate, Imitation of Life goes to show that this is an age-old difficulty made no easier by also having to deal with death, racial tensions, and heartache along the way.

If you're an old film lover like me, this film will you why you are. There is nothing quite like that softly gleaming glow that a great black and white movie puts off. Claudet Colbert is a national treasure, and if you haven't seen her acting, you should--today. The real power behind this film is its distinct story line. Of course, no one denies the existence of the obvious racism that filled the earlier days of this country. This film takes a unique line of that struggle to focus on the problems that light-skinned black people often went through. Peola could pass for white because her father before her was light skinned. In passing as white, Peola also had to disown her mother. There is no greater pain for a single mother than to be abandoned by her daughter. In contrast, Jessie was afforded much more opportunities due to her skin color and was able to maintain a healthy relationship with her mother. This class distinction was beautifully, and painfully, illustrated in the image of Bea ascending up the stairs while Delilah descended down the stairs immediately following their discussion of college plans of their daughters. This scene depicted, in such a stark way, the level of divide between races at the time, which were present regardless of income. Delilah had amassed a fortune with Bea due to her pancake recipe yet was still treated as a second-class citizen with a daughter that resents her. Many films deal with race, but the added struggle of both the women being single mothers creates a film that will not be forgotten in Imitation of Life.


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