“Bow your head! You got to learn to take it!”
Imitation of Life is one of the best films to have been released in the 1930s. Everything about the film is perfection.
Bea Pullman (Claudette Colbert) has been raising her young daughter Jessie by herself since her husband died. During the day she drops Jessie off at daycare so she can continue her husband’s work as a maple syrup seller. Jessie pleads with her mother not to take her to daycare she wants to stay with her. This breaks Bea’s heart but there is nothing she can do. That day a black woman comes to Bea’s backdoor asking if she is the one who put the ad in the paper for help. Bea says no but invites the woman in. Delilah (Louise Beavers) is the woman’s name and she tells Bea that she is willing to work for just room and board for her and little girl Peola. Bea lets Delilah and her daughter stay with them.
One morning before she leaves for work Bea has some of Delilah’s pancakes and they are great. While walking down the boardwalk during work Bea comes across a store that is for sale. She has the idea that she can open a pancake shop on there with Delilah since her pancakes are so good. She goes home that night to give her friend the good news, Delilah is unsure at first but sees that Bea needs to do something more with her life. Bea sweet talks the painter, the restaurant supplier and the landlord into giving her some good deals with the payments.
In a few years Bea and Delilah’s restaurant has become a hit. They live in the back of the store with their daughters. Jessie and Peola had left for school one morning but Peola comes running back into the house crying because Jessie said she was black. Peola is very light skinned she can pass for white and has been at school. Bea is upset with her daughter but Delilah says it is alright because Peola is black and should accept it.
On a rainy afternoon a man comes into the store. He asks to try some pancakes for free since he has sampled them all over the country. He likes what he tastes and tells Bea she should package the flour. In another few years the women are very wealthy. Delilah still lives with Bea because as she put it who would take of her and Jessie.
Jessie is happily away at school but Peola keeps wandering around leaving every school she goes to because she cannot come to grips with who she is. At a party Bea meets a man named Steve Archer (Warren William) who is very nice and charming. They begin to see each other every day after that. Jessie comes home from school for a vacation. Bea is happier than ever to have her daughter home. Delilah gets a letter saying that Peola has left school and should be on her way home. The letter was written four days previously and Peola has not come home. Delilah and Bea travel down south to where the school is. They find Peola working in a restaurant. When Delilah goes up to her daughter Peola denies knowing her mother and yells asking if she looks like she could be Delilah’s daughter. She runs out of the shop. While Bea and Delilah have been away Jessie has fallen in love with Steve.
Some time later Peola comes back home but she and her mother get into an argument that ends with Peola telling her mother she never wants to see her again and storming out of the house. Delilah is left with guilt and broken heart which makes her sick. Bea is now left to face the fact that she is losing her best and closest friend. Delilah dies missing and calling out to her child. At the funeral Peola runs up to her mother’s coffin saying how sorry she is.
The next day Bea tells Steven they can no longer be together since she knows that her daughter is in love with him.
Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers were fantastic. Colbert no matter what type of role she played was always flawless she was such a great actress. You could feel her character’s love for her daughter and her friend she played the character so well. Beavers was also great. It was nice to see her in a lead role not playing the typical house maid or mammy. Even though she was cheerful at the beginning I felt bad for her character right from the start. It was so sad to see her suffer because her daughter was not comfortable with herself and that was because Beavers knocked her part out she was perfect. I have to give a huge mention to Fredi Washington who played Peola at nineteen. The woman was beautiful. Whenever she was in a scene I could not get over how beautiful she was. Washington was a very good actress as well her scenes with Beavers were heartbreaking and very strong. Warren William was good as a love interest for Colbert. Usually he is some kind of a bad guy in his films but here he was a nice man who really cared for Bea and Jessie.
Imitation of Life is a flawless film (If there is to be a flaw it is that Delilah chose to stay and take of Bea when she was given so much money as if to say a black woman would not know what to do if she was not taking care of a white family and that not a lot of time was given to Delilah and Peola). It wonderfully preached racial equality and justice. Films have the power to be significant in history and Imitation of Life is certainly a significant film largely because it dealt with the issue of race before it was common to do so. Imitation of Life is very touching and teaches everyone either black or white to make the most of who they are and not to be afraid of that.