This Lana Turner vehicle was released in 1959, and was directed by Douglas Sirk. The film is actually a remake of John Stahl's film of the same name. This writeup, though, serves only to explicate the 1959 version.

Cast Of Characters:

  • Lana Turner as Lora Meredith
  • John Gavin as Steve Archer
  • Sandra Dee as Susie, age 16
  • Susan Kohner as Sarah Jane, age 18
  • Robert Alda as Allen Loomis
  • Dan O'Herlihy as David Edwards
  • Juanita Moore as Annie Johnson
  • Karin Dicker as Sarah Jane, age 8
  • Terry Burnham as Susie, age 6
  • John Vivyan as Young Man
  • Lee Goodman as Photographer
  • Ann Robinson (I) as Show Girl
  • Troy Donahue as Frankie
  • Sandra Gould (I) as Annette, Receptionist
  • David Tomack as Mr. McKenney, Milkman
  • Joel Fluellen as Minister
  • Jack Weston as Tom, Stage Manager
  • Billy House as Fat Man on Beach
  • Maida Severn as Teacher
  • Than Wyenn as Romano
  • Peg Shirley as Fay
  • Mahalia Jackson as Choir soloist
Film literature describes Imitation Of Life as a passing film, which basically means that one of the characters in this film is pretending to be something he or she is not.

Sarah Jane Johnson is Annie Johnson's daughter; Annie is black, and Annie describes Sarah Jane's father as being a very, very light-skinned black man. And yet, Sarah Jane herself is white (at least, she is played by a white actress). The rub is this: Sarah Jane does not want to be considered black; she wants to be white. Most of the time, she is able to successfully pass for white, but, any time her mother comes around, the fun is spoiled, and everybody finds out that is actually, truly black.

Lora Meredith and her daughter, Susie, both treat Sarah Jane like a human -- neither black, nor white -- but she hates them, anyway. She hates her mother, because her mother wishes that Sarah Jane would embrace her black roots, go to the black church, and date black boys. All Sarah Jane wants to do, though, is do what all white girls dream of doing: dance in sleazy bars and strip joints.

Here is my problem with calling this a passing film: Sarah Jane is only treated for fifteen -- maybe twenty -- minutes; the rest of the story has to do with Lora Meredith's struggle to become a successful actress and a successful mother, with occasional mention of her love affairs with Steve Archer and David Edwards. Sarah Jane's passing, as interesting as it may be, was not given sufficient attention, in my opinion, for this film to be "one of the classics of racial passing in film," as nearly any review of this film will dub it.

Don't take my word for it, though; see the movie yourself.


The cast of characters comes from http://www.imdb.com/ .

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