Imitation of Life (1934)

John M. Stahl directs Claudette Colbert, Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington in this drama where a friendship between a widow and her black servant is put under strain when one of their daughters falls for the wrong man and the other tries to pass as white.

Some of the attitudes here would have be seen progressive at the time, they now look ham fistedly racist. But you can tell this is a film with its heart in the right place… and a great one to boot. Beavers and Colbert have wonderful chemistry and all the subplots fascinate. Sure a modern film would explore Fredi Washington’s complicated existence with more nuance and focus but this still manages to say a lot… even if it says it in the uncertain, insensitive voice of the 1930s. A truly brilliant melodrama.


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