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Imitation of Life

Director John Stahl transforms Fannie Hurst's warhorse tear-jerker into a serious and original statement on the sexual self-containment and child-absorption of a certain species of American womanhood, by-products of Depression independence. The story tells of a black maid (Louise Beavers) and a white widow (Claudette Colbert) whose lives intersect in a scheme to manufacture pancake batter, and whose common bond is a self-manufactured suffering at the hands of their daughters. Miss Colbert's hypocritical self-sacrifice is presented with amazing objectivity; and the drama of Miss Beavers' light-skinned daughter who tries to pass for white has a valid desperation that passes by racial stereotypes of the era. From the opening re-creation of a 1919 Atlantic City boardwalk (period solidity is a Stahl specialty) to the unexpectedly uncompromising ending, Imitation Of Life preserves a unity of tone and emotional consistency that are truly remarkable for its genre, and serve as confirmations of the individualistic talent of its unfortunately little-known director.

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