Directed by Douglas Sirk, adapted from Fannie Hurst’s novel Imitation of Life, this is one of the most powerful films of the decade, or at least to me. The first time I watched this film it effected me in a way a film had never done before. It broached subjects that were real and at that time not openly talked about. Lana Turner was remarkable, but who stole the entire film for me was Susan Kohner, who played the light skinned African American girl who so desperately wanted to be white. The role garnered her a Golden Globe win for best supporting actress and an Academy Award nomination as well.
In the film, Lora Meredith (Turner), a white widowed single mother with dreams of becoming a famous actress takes in Annie Johnson (Moore), a black widowed single mother who becomes a nanny for Lora’s daughter Suzie (Dee). Although Lora eventually becomes a successful stage and screen star, she sacrifices a healthy relationship with her daughter. In addition, Annie’s light-complexioned daughter Sarah Jane (Kohner) causes her mother much pain and heartache as she attempts to pass for white and shun both her heritage and her mother’s love.
Lana Turner’s wardrobe for Imitation of Life was, at a cost of over $1.078 million, one of the most expensive in cinema history at that time. In one of the most heart-wrenching parts of the film, Gospel singing star Mahalia Jackson sings “Trouble of the World” during the final scenes of the film, and receives star billing for doing so (she appears in no other parts in the film).