7.5/10
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72 user 29 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)
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

Claudette Colbert and Warren William also co-starred in Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra (1934) that same year. See more »

Goofs

When Elmer first comes into the pancake shop on the boardwalk, Beatrice leans on the counter with one elbow. In the next wider shot, she's leaning on the counter with both elbows. See more »

Quotes

Elmer Smith: [dourly, to Stephen] You'd make a great undertaker.
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 Hollywood Hist-o-Rama: Claudette Colbert (1962) 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 »

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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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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