The Imitation Of Life ( 1959 Classic Movie )

Review by Ty McLemore


Douglas Sirk

Lead Actors:

Lana Turner, John Gavin, Juanita Moore, Susan Kohner


Ross Hunter

Plot Synopsis

Two single mothers randomly meet on a Coney Island boardwalk as their respective, pre-pubescent daughters play together in the sand. One woman is white and an aspiring, yet struggling actress. The other is black, homeless and desperately seeking employment as a maid.

The women pair off as employer and housekeeper and the foursome attempt to survive financially in 1947-era New York City. Beneath the surface, however, trouble brews for the two girls.  One craves attention from her clueless, stardom-obsessed mother while the other, who is fair skinned and fatalistic about her circumstances, tries to pass as white – a consequence of believing that in 20th Century America being another color regulates one to the bottom rungs of society and opportunity.

Oscar-nominated actress Lana Turner plays Lora Meredith while Juanita Moore plays her faithful and sensible housekeeper Annie Johnson.

The story forwards ahead 10 years where they now reside in a plush Manhattan-area mansion with all of the amenities and trappings that Lora’s fame and wealth have bought. The girls are now teenagers  with Turner’s daughter played by Sandra Dee and Johnson’s daughter Sarah Jane played by the alluring and sexy-voiced Susan Kohner.

Sarah Jane’s constant embarrassment of having a black mother causes her to repeatedly run away. The final time comes when a prospective boyfriend learns of her ethnicity and renders a savage beating to her.

Annie, now terminally ill, enlists the help of Lora’s fiancĂ© Steve ( John Gavin ) to find her.  Once found, Annie makes a final visit to say her goodbyes. She dies a few weeks later and as promised by Lora, is given an elaborate funeral complete with a horse-drawn hearse and renowned gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

The movie ends with a sobbing, hysterical Sarah Jane rushing through the crowd, throwing herself on the casket and begging for her mother’s forgiveness – much to the astonishment of the funeral patrons.

Who Would Like it and Why

Anyone able to identify with sympathetic, yet flawed characters.

Who Might not Like it and Why

Anyone sensitive to the mistreatment or marginalization of women.

Highlights/Top Scenes

Annie pays a surprise visit to Sarah Jane’s dressing room while she prepares for a cabaret show. She assures her daughter that she will no longer meddle in her affairs and asks for a final hug goodbye.

As the two embrace, Sarah Jane cries. Her increasing guilt over the mistreatment of her mother has become apparent.

It is the RARE viewer who will have survived thus far without shedding a tear. The closing scenes will leave even  the most hardened and detached individual misty eyed and shaken. A testament to Sirk in creating a sophisticated, thought-provoking potboiler that ratchets up the emotions to a gut-wrenching climax. 


  1. This melodramatic, over-the-top atrocity was SO sappy and sickening that brushing my teeth was in order before I could continue my assessment.

    The title should have read “The Imitation of Strife” and these four women were definite candidates for Prozac. This movie, much like you, was shallow, brainless and devoid of any meaning.

    Sadly, the 125 minutes I squandered on this loathsome feature can never be recovered.

  2. Joanne MumpfieldJuly 4, 2013 at 7:10 PM

    My mother grew up in the segregated south in Savannah, Georgia. She always told me of this movie and how it left such an impact on her.

    She couldn't remember its title and I made it my personal mission to find out. Once I found it, I watched it on 12 different occasions and sobbed uncontrollably each time.

    Thank you Mr. McLemore for bringing such an epic movie to light.


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