Imitation of Life (1959)

Producer Ross Hunter’s films were always a wonder to behold, with the best money could buy in cinematography, art direction, costume design and jewelry, all made even more impressive in this world premiere restoration. When Douglas Sirk directed them, they picked up a bit of social commentary through his astute framing and direction of actors. This 1959 romance is almost a textbook example, though it’s more entertaining than any textbook you’ve ever read. The commentary comes through the subplot, in which housekeeper Juanita Moore’s light-skinned daughter (Susan Kohner) denies her heritage to pass for white. Both performances were so strong they won Oscar nominations, with Kohner also capturing a Golden Globe. The glitz is provided by the main plot, in which glamorous actress Lana Turner finds herself competing for love with her neglected daughter, played by Sandra Dee. The two blonde stars are at their best, with Turner returning to the screen after her daughter’s murder trial to find her popularity had increased. If anything, the picture made the scandal part of her image, turning the glamorous sex symbol into a woman victimized by her own success. This is a rare remake that stands respectably beside the original (a 1934 version starring Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers). Sadly, it would be Sirk’s last commercial film before returning to his native Germany because of health problems.

(d. Douglas Sirk, 125m, Digital)

In attendance: Sherry Lansing