If you want to see how far our society has advanced since 1934, watch “Imitation of Life.” The prejudice of the time is reflected in this movie. It also tells a story about women trying to make it on their own.
The story revolves around two women, Beatrice Pullman (Ms. B), a white woman, portrayed by Claudette Colbert, and Delilah, a black woman, portrayed by Louise Beavers. They both have two daughters, the same age, but Delilah’s daughter is light-skinned and desperately wants to pass for white. She’s figured out that in 1934, life’s a lot easier in the white world. Fredi Washington, a black actress, gave the character believability.
Ms B is a widow with a young child Jessie, and Miss B. is trying to make a living selling maple syrup on the Boardwalk. She offers Delilah and her young child, Peola, a room in her house in exchange for Delilah’s housekeeping. Although they have an almost equal friendship, Delilah’s total devotion to Ms. B might bother you. In one scene she is rubbing Miss B’s feet and telling her how important it is for her to find love. (Why doesn’t Miss B tell Delilah she should find love too?)
Miss B is delighted when she tastes Delilah’s secret family recipe for pancakes. She knows Delilah’s pancakes will sell better than maple syrup. She decides to open a restaurant featuring Delilah’s pancakes, then markets her mix and they both make a lot of money. Ms. B. offers Delilah 20% of the company. (This seems hardly an equal partnership.)
After they get rich off of Delilah’s recipe, Ms. B meets a potential husband, Steve Archer (Warren William) at a posh party she throws in her fancy New York apartment. Delilah and Peola have to sit outside the party dressed in their finery. You can feel Peola’s heartbreak.
The plot surrounds the girls upsetting their devoted mothers. Peola doesn’t want anyone to know she’s black, so she doesn’t want her mother hanging around. Jesse Pullman (Rochelle Hudson) plays your average sweet rich ingenue. Let’s just say that she takes a shine to her mother’s boyfriend. That’s all I’m going to reveal.
Although this movie will embarrass you at times, it’s worth watching.
This movie was recommended for Best Picture in 1934. It didn’t win. Why would it? It was about independent women and friendship between a black and white woman. Miss B eventually shows Delilah more concern and caring, but we know who is the most valuable person.
Although these actors are all long gone, their performances still hold up. It’s really amazing when you think about it.
I caught in on AMC, but it is sold on Amazon. I understand there is a version with narration, that explains what life was like in the good old bad days.