Imitation of Life (1934)
Merely being ahead of one’s time is a great in and of itself, however, that alone doesn’t make for a great drama. What’s fortunate is that for this film it has both. Imitation of Life deals with race about as openly, maturely and progressively as any film of its era – if you can fault it for anything cinematically it’s being slightly repetitious (But it addresses that), in social terms it discusses and even challenges norms. This was considered a dangerous films and Universal was strongly urged not to make it. Not only does it deal with race relations but in having Delilah’s daughter be able to pass for white, it also implies miscegenation, which was at the time one of the biggest taboos there was.
However, as I said without a compelling narrative all of the above is just a footnote. Bea’s chance meeting with Delilah snowballs in a very compelling way into a most unlikely friendship and partnership. The trials as single mothers also form dueling subplots that at times are equally compelling. The only knock I thought I had against it was that I wanted more focus on the more unusual plot, but based on the way things play out it is handled properly.
If one is not very familiar with Claudette Colbert there are likely few roles that are better for you to get to know her in. Every year, it seems, I mention that I do love the selections that have intros by the hosts on TCM. This one was a gold mine. Not only for mentioning that Colbert appeared in three Best picture nominees in 1934 alone, but also for pointing out the fact that this film likely could’ve sported two best supporting actress nominees (Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington) but the category was two years from being created.
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 3/0