Imitation of Life (1959)

Imitation of Life (1959), directed by Douglas Sirk.

A famous melodrama directed by the King of the Weepies, his last Hollywood film.

It's a soap opera about two women, one black and one white, and their daughters. Young Sarah Jane is very light skinned, hates being black, takes it out on her mother and will spend the rest of her life trying to pass for white.

This core of the story is fine and has genuinely weepie moments, but it is surrounded by the syrupy tale of Lana Turner, her struggles to become an actress, and the men in her life. This sort of thing used to be called a "woman's movie", but my wife had no interest in it. Anguish stories are out of fashion now. I persevered.

Juanita Moore is terrific as Annie Johnson, the saintly black mother, both servant and best friend to Lana Turner: "How do you explain to your child she was born to be hurt?" She's the only stable character in the story, apart from John Gavin, the standby boyfriend.

The DVD includes a worshipful commentary track. He claims the film is both a soap opera, as intended by the producer and cinematographer, and a critique of the genre, as intended by the director.

This was Turner's first film after a scandal: her daughter killed Turner's gangster boyfriend, which act was declared justifiable homicide at the inquest. (Young Sean Connery knocked the same guy down and took a gun from him earlier).