Probably the most famous, perhaps the best film by Douglas Sirk, today the legendary melodrama “Imitation of Life” was the last one he made. Although “Imitation of Life” was commercially his most successful film, and had two Oscar nominations (Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore for supporting female roles), Sirk decided to retire after making this film. Although his melodramas are considered classics today, despite the commercial success of the 1950s, Sirko’s films were considered banal and unimportant at the time, but “Imitation of Life” is the best example of his subversiveness and playfulness with classic petty-bourgeois stereotypes and social customs.
This was the second film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Fanny Hurst after the original was made in 1934 by John M. Stahl, and this story is masterfully set in America in the twenties, moved to the fifties. This film offers a great insight into time and space and a strong commentary on the racial, class, but also gender issues of the time. The story revolves around the friendship and relationship of initially young white girl Lore Meredith (Lana Turner), a widow with a young daughter hoping to become an actress and housekeeper Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore) who will move in with her daughter Lori. We follow through the story of their relationship and their lives and what the still racially segregated America of the 1950s looked like.
While Lora tries to make her dreams come true and break through as an actress and become a star, Annie will have more and more problems with her rebellious daughter Sarah Jane, a girl who will pass as a white woman because of her fair skin and will start to be ashamed of her mother and hide from her. It is a great and layered film about life, desires, dreams, missed and realized opportunities, identity, but also still great class and racial differences and inequalities in American society. He was Sirk and one of the first white directors to deal with the topic of racial inequality, but also the search for identity, in such a subversive and layered way. Although nominally the main character is Lora, and the focus is on her friendship and relationship with Annie, a typical submissive and obedient mulatto who arrived in New York from the south and a woman who is clearly imbued with the order that whites are class above, there is her daughter who found a way to thrive on the social ladder of that era.
And not as a girl of mixed race, but thanks to the fact that she is fair-skinned (Sarah Jane is played by white actress Susan Kohner) and by pretending and hiding her origins she will try to fit in. The relationship between Lora and her daughter, who will also grow from a girl to a girl over the years, is also interesting. As Lora will break through over time and become famous, she will increasingly neglect her daughter, her desires and will become exclusively important to herself. Although “Imitation of Life” is considered the peak of Sirk’s career, this Hamburg-born filmmaker as Hans Detlef Sierck decided to retire, leave America and return home to Germany. Thus, “Imitation of Life” was the last film he ever made and the great end of the fifties, which marked a series of films whose value, importance, but also subversiveness was recognized only later.