Imitation of Life is a classic melodrama, and is one of the ultimate “chick flicks”. I’ve seen this movie many times, and never tire of watching it. This film is a mainstay on Turner Classic Movies and is often aired on Mother’s Day. If you like classic sentimental dramas, you will probably enjoy it. It’s my favorite Lana Turner film.
A Brief Review of Imitation of Life
Lora (Lana Turner) is a single mother who has recently lost her husband. She dreams of pursuing a career on Broadway to support herself and her young daughter. One day while at the beach she loses her daughter Susie (played by Sandra Dee later in the film) and enlists a stranger named Steve (John Gavin) to help locate her.
Susie had noticed another girl around the same age to play with named Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner as a teenager). Sarah Jane’s mother Annie (Juanita Moore) watched over the two girls while she waited for Susie’s parent to find her.
Lora is very grateful to Annie, and offers her a temporary home when she discovers the mother and daughter have nowhere to go. Annie is also a single mom raising a child. This is the beginning of a long friendship between the two women.
Annie works for Lora as a homemaker while Lora pursues her career. It doesn’t take too long for Lora to become a popular Broadway star. She is busy with her career while Annie cares for the two girls. Lora moves from her drabby apartment to an upscale home with Susie, Annie and Sarah Jane. The girls become very rebellious as they get older. Sarah Jane in particular gives her mother a lot of stress and grief.
Why I Love Imitation of Life
There are several reasons why I love watching this movie. Lora’s life is the ultimate fantasy. She becomes successful, famous and wealthy, and lives in a beautiful home with a wardrobe and jewelry to die for. It might not be realistic, but how many movies are? We generally watch them to be entertained.
Lana Turner was perfect for this role. She’s dressed to the nines even for a house party. Lora’s life may have mirrored Lana’s to some extent, although Lana was much younger when she became a celebrity. Both Lora and Lana went from obscurity to fame in a short period of time.
Another reason why I enjoy this film is because of the friendship between the two women. They remain loyal and supportive of each other all through the years. I like to see friendships portrayed in such a positive way. Lora and Annie take turns leaning on each other, particularly when they must deal with their troubled daughters.
The two girls rebel for very different reasons. Most people can probably sympathize with the problems Lora and Annie had with the girls, particularly Annie.
Susan Kohner, who played Sarah Jane, actually steals the show. Her character’s life spirals out of control as she makes one bad decision after another. Juanita Moore beautifully portrayed Annie’s heartbreak and a mother’s unconditional love. There are a few scenes that are tear jerkers, so you might want to keep the tissues handy.
A few of the scenes are particularly memorable. I won’t give away the most emotional ones in case you have not seen this film. One that I will mention is the scene between Lora and Sarah Jane at Lora’s party. Lora lets the young woman know she has had enough of her behavior, especially with the way Sarah Jane treats Annie. Sarah Jane is shocked at Lora’s justified anger, although she doesn’t change her ways.
Both Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore were nominated for Oscars. There is a good chance that the votes were split between the two, thereby cancelling each other out. Either woman would have been very deserving of a win. Susan decided to retire from acting when she married. She displayed very good acting skills in this film, and may have gone on to have a very good career.
Lana Turner was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood when tragedy struck in 1957. Her daughter Cheryl killed Lana’s boyfriend in self defense. This was a very traumatic event for both women, and Lana did not work for awhile. She was reluctant to take the role in Imitation of Life when it was first offered. Perhaps some of the subject matter was too close to home. Lana was having financial trouble at the time, and her agent convinced her to take the part. It turned out to be a good decision, since the movie was very successful at the box office.
Imitation of Life is not the best movie that was ever made. However, it’s entertaining drama and has some emotional moments. Lana Turner and Juanita Moore both shined in this story. This is a nice choice for any time you want an escape for a couple of hours.