Imitation of Life

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  • Approved
  • 1934
  • 1 hr 51 min
  • 7.5  (5,564)
  • 72

Imitation of Life is a 1934 American drama film directed by John M. Stahl and based on Fannie Hurst's 1933 novel of the same name. The film stars Claudette Colbert, Warren William, Rochelle Hudson, and Louise Beavers. It tells the story of two women, one white and one African American, who become close friends and face the challenges of societal expectations, racial prejudice, and motherhood.

The film opens with aspiring actress Bea Pullman (Claudette Colbert) arriving in New York City with her young daughter Jessie. With no money or job prospects, she finds a makeshift home in the apartment of Delilah Johnson, a kind-hearted African American widow (Louise Beavers) who is struggling to support her own daughter Peola. Delilah works as a pancake vendor and shares her recipe with Bea, who sees the potential for a lucrative business. Together, the two women start selling Delilah's pancakes on the boardwalk at Coney Island, and their business takes off.

As their friendship deepens, Bea offers Delilah a job as her housekeeper, and Delilah brings her daughter Peola to live with them. Despite being light-skinned and able to "pass" as white, Peola (Rochelle Hudson) resents her African American heritage and longs to be accepted as white. She refuses to acknowledge her mother in public and becomes increasingly distant from Delilah.

Meanwhile, Bea's business continues to flourish, and she catches the eye of Steve Archer (Warren William), a suave and married businessman who offers to invest in her company. As they become romantically involved, Bea must navigate the conflicting demands of her career, her daughter, and her relationship with Steve.

The film explores themes of race, gender, and class in 1930s America. Delilah and Peola's experiences highlight the challenges faced by African Americans in a segregated society, where discrimination and prejudice limit their opportunities and restrict their mobility. Bea's struggles as a single mother and working woman reflect the societal expectations placed on women, who were expected to prioritize their domestic duties over their careers and personal fulfillment. The film also portrays economic hardship, as both Bea and Delilah struggle to make ends meet and provide for their families.

Despite its heavy themes, the film also features moments of humor and warmth, particularly in the scenes between Bea and Delilah. Their friendship is portrayed as a genuine bond between two women who rely on each other for support and companionship. The film also showcases Louise Beavers' talents as an actress, challenging the stereotypes and caricatures often associated with African American roles in Hollywood films of the time.

Imitation of Life was a commercial success upon its release in 1934, and it has since become a classic of American cinema. It inspired a 1959 remake directed by Douglas Sirk, which also explored themes of race and gender in 1950s America. Although the two films share a title and basic plot, the 1934 version is noted for its nuanced portrayal of African American characters and its examination of the challenges faced by women in the early 20th century.

Overall, Imitation of Life is a poignant and thought-provoking film that explores timeless issues of identity, friendship, and motherhood. Its lasting legacy is a testimony to its enduring relevance and emotional power.

Imitation of Life is a 1934 drama with a runtime of 1 hour and 51 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 7.5 and a MetaScore of 72.

Imitation of Life
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 51 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    7.5  (5,564)
  • Metascore