New from Kevin Wozniak on Kevflix: From the Collection: Imitation of Life (1934)

John M. Stahl’s 1934 melodrama Imitation of Life is the latest film to enter the Criterion Collection. The good folks at Criterion sent me a copy to check out.

Adapted from Fannie Hurst’s 1933 novel of the same name, the film looks at the friendship between two struggling single mothers: Beatrice (Claudette Colbert) a working-class white woman, and Delilah {Louise Beavers), her Black housekeeper and closest friend. The two open up a successful pancake shop together using Delilah’s pancake recipe and Beatrice’s family syrup and business skills. As the shop becomes successful, Beatrice rockets up to the top of the business world, while Beatrice doesn’t get the love and admiration because of her race. Beatrice’s life is also shattered by the rejection of her rebellious, white-passing daughter (Fredi Washington).

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards in 1935, including a nomination for Best Picture. In 2005, Imitation of Life was selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry and has been cited as a landmark film for tackling important issues about race.

Here’s what the disc includes:

  • 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with Miriam J. Petty, author of Stealing the Show: African American Performers and Audiences in 1930s Hollywood, about the resonance of Louise Beavers’s and Fredi Washington’s performances
  • New interview with Imogen Sara Smith, contributor to The Call of the Heart: John M. Stahl and Hollywood Melodrama, about director John M. Stahl and his work with actor Claudette Colbert and others
  • Trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by Petty

 

Claudette Colbert as Beatrice and Louise Beavers as Delilah in Imitation of Life (Universal)
Louise Beavers as Delilah and Claudette Colbert as Beatrice in Imitation of Life (Universal)

The 4k restoration is gorgeous. Criterion has always done great work with restorations in the past and this is one of their most impressive efforts yet. For a film that is nearly 90 years old, the film looks and sounds perfect. The essay by Petty was also a spectacular read.

This was my first time seeing Imitation of Life and I thought it was a really great film. Colbert and Beavers give two excellent performances. You really feel their friendship and understand their struggles throughout. The story and the melodrama are effective and I was most stunned by how ahead of its time this film was. The film saw two women of different races being friends and opening their own successful business. It tackled important racial issues about successful Black women and the idea of passing, which was the most powerful storyline in the film. These were challenging themes back in 1934, but Stahl handled them delicately and with care.

You can pick up a copy of Imitation of Life on the Criterion website or anywhere they sell Criterion Collection DVDs.

 

 

 

From the Collection is an analysis piece of non-new-release movies, whether seen on DVD, streaming, or in a theater, and includes a brief history of the film, a review of the film, and content about the experience of seeing the film and/or the contents of the film’s DVD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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