Imitation of Life is a remake of Fannie Hurst’s novel of the early 1930s. Lana Turner is outstanding in the pivotal role played in Universal’s 1934 version by Claudette Colbert. Scripters Eleanore Griffin and Allan Scott have transplanted her from the original pancake-and-flour business to the American stage.
While this device lends more scope, it also results in the overdone busy actress/neglected daughter conflict, and thus the secondary plot of a fair-skinned Negress passing as white becomes the film’s primary force. The relationship of the young colored girl and her mother – played memorably by Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore – is sometimes overpowering, while the relationship of Turner and her daughter, Sandra Dee, comes to life only briefly when both are in love with same man, John Gavin.
Turner plays a character of changing moods, and her changes are remarkably effective, as she blends love and understanding, sincerity and ambition. The growth of maturity is reflected neatly in her distinguished portrayal. In smaller roles, both Robert Alda, as an opportunist agent, and Dan O’Herlihy, as a playwright, are excellent.
1959: Nominations: Best Supp. Actress (Juanita Moore, Susan Kohner)