7.5/10
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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)
Reviews
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 with WARREN WILLIAM -in the soul-stirring drama of a girl in love with her widowed mother's fiance! (Print Ad- Border Cities Star, ((Windsor PO)) 3 June 1935) See more »

Genres:

Drama | Romance

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Despite this being a Universal film, Claudette Colbert would get up two hours earlier and meet Dorothy Ponedel at the Paramount studio, so she could have Ponedel (preferred makeup artist) prepare her for filming. 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

Delilah Johnson: [to Peola] Bow your head! You got to learn to take it!
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 Tonys (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 »

User Reviews

 
Box it!
24 February 2006 | by jotix100See all my reviews

"Imitation of Life", the 1934 version, reflected the attitude in the country toward blacks. This movie wouldn't have had a chance of being made in the present climate of political correctness. This movie shows how Hollywood dealt with the racial issues back in those years. John Stahl directed the film, which stands in stark contrast with the Douglas Sirk's take in 1959 which presents a glossier vision of the Fanny Hurst novel, in which it's based.

Between the two versions, this one seems to make more sense, in spite of the incredible jump from rags to riches Bea Pullman experiences. Claudette Colbert makes Bea more accessible to us, in contrast with Lana Turner's blonde goddess looks. This Bea Pullman is easier to take because the way she makes her money by going into business, capitalizing on Delilah's idea about the marketing the perfect blend for pancakes.

Warren William plays Steve Archer, the man who falls in love with Bea while not suspecting the effect he causes in young Jessie, Bea's daughter. Louise Beavers is Delilah; she is made to speak broken English to show her ignorance, which was the thing expected every time black characters were shown in movies of that period. Ms. Beavers' role was made bigger in the 1959 remake, but Juanita Moore, who played the part, was not subjected to her predecessor's fate. Rochelle Hudson, Ned Sparks and Fredi Washington round up the supporting cast.


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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

26 November 1934 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Imitation of Life 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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