Not every film I watch stays with me days later. This one did. Imitation of Life (1959) starring Lana Turner, John Gavin, Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner, and Juanita Moore.
It begins in 1947, when Lora Meredith (Turner) is at a beach and searching for a missing daughter. She finds her in the company of an African-American woman named Annie Johnson (Moore) and her daughter, Sarah Jane. Much to Lora's surprise, Sarah Jane is fair skin and didn't realize her mother was Annie. They exchange kindness's and Lora allows Annie and Sarah Jane to stay in her home because they are homeless. In a short matter of time Annie becomes a part of Lora's family and runs the home for her as she pursues her dreams of becoming and actress.Juanita Moore that stole the film and my heart along with it. Turner was the cake but Moore was the filling.
Eleven years later, Lora is no longer a struggling actress but a very famous and successful one. She stays in a long term relationship with a playwright but doesn't truly love him. And although her success allows her to send her daughter, Susie (Dee) to the best schools, her work load has created a rift between them.
Annie, always peaceful, gentle, and kind tries her best to guide her daughter to self-acceptance. She never yells at her or voices her anger at her daughter's indifference but quietly attempts to teach her daughter to love herself for who and what she is.
I cannot express to you how painful that scene was to watch for me because Annie was everything a mother hopes to be for their child. She is loving, hardworking, dedicated, honest, supportive, kind, and oh what was more heartbreaking was that Sarah Jane loved her mother too. She embraces her after Annie asks for it for one last time.
After she returns from saying goodbye to Sarah Jane she falls seriously ill. You see for the first time how deep the friendship between Lora and Annie is and how important Annie was to everyone in the family. She was the anchor that kept everyone afloat.
All Annie asks for when she passes is a spectacular funeral. For someone who lived such a quiet and demur life, Annie wanted her exit to be like a superstar would have. And rightfully so. At the funeral there was a powerful solo performance by the incredible Mahalia Jackson. I got chills listening to her sing "Trouble of the World". My goodness, her voice to me was like listening to an angel sing.
Before the horse drawn carriages bring Annie to her final resting place, her daughter Sarah Jane run up and embraces her coffin. I think I must have cried for five minutes straight!
Lora, decided to spend less time working and more time with her own daugher, Susie as well as trade in her playwright amour for someone she truly loved. Because of these changes she is able to see and understand Sarah Jane's need for acceptance and family. In the last scenes Lora comforts Sarah Jane and you get the impression that somehow they will all be alright without Annie.
I cannot recommend this film enough. It seems like it would be too much for the heart to bare but it does tell both the stories of Lora and Annie beautifully. You see the choices two mothers make for the sake of their children and for themselves.
You can find both the dvd version of this film and the original novel by Fanny Hurst here:
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