Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Imitation of Life: Claudette's or Lana's?

1934 Original Version
The 1930s decade (and most of the 1940s as well) has been nostalgically labeled "The Golden Age of Hollywood" (although most of the output of the decade was black-and-white). The 30s was also the decade of the sound and color revolutions and the advance of the 'talkies', and the further development of film genres (gangster films, musicals, newspaper-reporting films, historical biopics, social-realism films, lighthearted screwball comedies, westerns and horror to name a few). It was the era in which the silent period ended, with many silent film stars not making the transition to sound (e.g., Vilmy Banky, John Gilbert, and Norma Talmadge). By 1933, the economic effects of the Depression were being strongly felt, especially in decreased movie theatre attendance.  http://www.filmsite.org/30sintro.html 

An African American (Delilah) offers a not so rich widow (Bea) with a young daughter, to work for her as housekeeper so as to provide a decent life for her own young white looking daughter and herself. Delilah prepares breakfast for Bea and after tasting her delicious pancake, sets out to start a business which rewards them with success and wealth. Racial & relational issues begin when Delilah's daughter rejects her African origins and regards herself as totally white. Beautiful film on relationships between mother and daughter. Remade in the 60s with the same title. They say that surprisingly, the remake is the better version.

Universal had difficulty receiving approval from the censors at the Hays Office for the original script they submitted for Imitation of Life. Joseph Breen objected to the elements of miscegenation in the story, which "not only violates the Production Code but is very dangerous from the standpoint both of industry and public policy." They also objected to some language in the script, and a scene where a black boy is nearly lynched for approaching a white woman who he believed had invited his attention. Breen continued to refuse to approve the script even up to July 17, when the film had already been shooting for two weeks.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imitation_of_Life_%281934_film%29

Although the Lana Turner 1959 version may be the more successful one, filmed in the prototypical tradition of a SIRK (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0802862/bio) soapish melodrama and richly photographed in color, I staunchly remain traditionally attached to the original b/w classic.  I'm a Claudette Colbert, fan through and through (although Missy comes first)...which simply explains the partiality. 

1959 Version
Setting this aside...The 1959's version ('34: Delilah with Peola and '59: Annie with Sarah Jane) in showcasing the interracial issue, as poignantly interpreted through a Mother and Daughter conflicting relational stance, provokes however a more tear-jerking reaction.  Both Louise Beavers and Juanita Moore portrayed the mother role beautifully and yet Juanita Moore had an unmistakable edge - the effectiveness in portraying her role which makes one empathize and sympathize up to the point of weeping uncontrollably...

Which version would you prefer?

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