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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:

Claudette Colbert at her finest in Imitation of Life (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

1934 proved to be a banner year for Claudette Colbert with her acclaimed performance in this film, the Cecil B. DeMille blockbuster Cleopatra (1934) and the runaway Oscar-winning hit It Happened One Night (1934). 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: Don't you want your own house?
Delilah Johnson: No. How am I to take care of you and Miss Jessie if I aint here?
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

Referenced in Smash: The Producers (2013) 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

 
A Film Ahead Of Its Time - For All Time
13 January 2002 | by Ron OliverSee all my reviews

A black mother worries that her light skinned daughter will have only an IMITATION OF LIFE if she continually tries to pass for white.

Let it be stated unequivocally that this is one of the most remarkable films of the 1930's - unique in that it deals squarely with aspects of the racial question decades before it became common to do so. After becoming accustomed to the casual racism of most Hollywood movies of the era, this honesty is quite astonishing.

As the black mother, Louise Beavers is heartbreaking in the simple power of her performance. Joyously serving up love & pancakes, or devastated by her daughter's rejection of their race, Miss Beavers makes her audience feel her every emotion. This was the finest role of her film career, and she makes the most of it. However, the movie over, the studio system returned her to mammy parts. This is a tremendous blot on Hollywood's record.

Beautiful Claudette Colbert is scintillating, as always. Playing a tenderhearted maple syrup saleslady who first employs Miss Beavers, and later befriends her, Miss Colbert adds a distinct touch of class to the film. But she is also sympathetic to the concerns of the story and helps to quietly push along the plea for racial equality.

Elegant actor Warren William, he of the sophisticated profile, brings his considerable talents to the role of Miss Colbert's ichthyologist boyfriend. Refreshingly, he plays a solid, decent fellow - instead of the rake or cad which he portrayed so often & so well. His involvement is a definite asset to the film.

The rest of the cast adds to the overall excellence of the production: acerbic Ned Sparks as Miss Colbert's business manager; lovely Rochelle Hudson as her ready-for-love daughter; Henry Armentta & Alan Hale as businessmen cajoled by Miss Colbert's charms; and especially Fredi Washington, memorable as Miss Beavers' daughter, a stranger inside her own skin.

Movie mavens will spot Clarence Wilson as the pancake shop's landlord, Franklin Pangborn as a party guest & Paul Porcasi as a restaurant manager, all uncredited.

IMITATION OF LIFE preached a powerful sermon on racial justice & equality, but the Hollywood congregation was not paying attention. It would be a very long time before black performers & black roles would be treated with the dignity they so desperately deserved.


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