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Imitation of Life: Two Movie Collection (Widescreen)

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The plain Jane stepsister next to Douglas Sirk's gloriously and pointedly gaudy remake, the first film version of the Fannie Hurst novel -Imitation of Life (1934) still has a subtle power of its own. Scripted by Preston Sturges and directed with restrained expressiveness by 1930s and '40s melodrama specialist John M. Stahl, the relationships between the white and black mother-daughter pairs illuminate a Depression-era slant on the central dilemmas of work and race. More of a down to earth, maternal career woman than in Sirk's film, Claudette Colbert's Bea may make her fortune from Delilah's (Louise Beavers) pancake recipe, but their mutual, materially necessary success makes the racial divide seem all the more artificial and meaningless. Delilah's light-skinned daughter Peola (played by Fredi Washington, an actress who actually did "pass") becomes the only "imitator" with her desire to pass for white, yet Stahl's upstairs-downstairs compositions -- and Beavers' dated "Aunt Jemima" performance -- underline why she'd want to pass. Ending in a muted mother-daughter reconciliation, this imitation mines emotion from a relatively calm, dignified sincerity underlying the quartet's need to reconcile their conflicting desires and responsibilities. Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide

From the opening credits' cascade of jewels to the final ****** of grief and reconciliation, Douglas Sirk's remake of Imitation of Life encases a potentially maudlin soaper in a flamboyant style that incisively critiques 1950s America even as it mercilessly wrings emotions. Finding the perfect exemplars of artificiality in Lana Turner and cloying daughter Sandra Dee to contrast with the genuine, Oscar-nominated pathos of Juanita Moore and troubled daughter Susan Kohner, Sirk adds an extra bite to the divisions of race and class dictating Lora and Annie's unspoken assumption that Annie will always be the maid and Sarah Jane will always play second fiddle to Susie. The gaudy colors, over-the-top interiors (especially Lora's palatial home and Sarah Jane's vulgar nightclub), and copious mirrors emphasize the deleterious impact of the 1950s obsession with surfaces, whether racial, financial, or maternal. The casting of white actress Kohner to play a black passing for white speaks for itself. The climactic funeral featuring gospel singer Mahalia Jackson teeters between wrenching melodrama and comic irony, exemplifying Sirk's gift for pessimistic "happy" endings. Critical or not, Imitation of Life became Universal's biggest hit ever at that time, capping Sirk's soon-to-be distinguished career. Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide

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