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Press Release Criterion Press Release: Imitation of Life (1934) (Blu-ray) (1 Viewer)

Ronald Epstein

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Melodrama master John M. Stahl brings his exquisite restraint and almost spiritually pure visual style to this devastating, enduringly relevant story of mothers and daughters. Imitation of Life explores the friendship between two struggling single mothers: one (Claudette Colbert) a working-class white woman who ascends to the top of the business world, the other (Louise Beavers) her Black housekeeper, whose life is shattered by the rejection of her rebellious, white-passing daughter (Fredi Washington). It is this latter relationship—attuned to America’s bitter racial realities and heartbreakingly enacted by trailblazing Black performers Beavers and Washington—that lends the film its transcendent emotional power. This first adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s best-selling novel boldly confronts the complexities and contradictions of racial identity, economic exploitation, and the limits of the American dream.

FILM INFO​

  • United States
  • 1934
  • 110 minutes
  • Black & White
  • 1.33:1
  • English
  • Spine #1167

BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES​

  • 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • New interview with Miriam J. Petty, author of Stealing the Show: African American Performers and Audiences in 1930s Hollywood, about the resonance of Louise Beavers’s and Fredi Washington’s performances
  • New interview with Imogen Sara Smith, contributor to The Call of the Heart: John M. Stahl and Hollywood Melodrama, about director John M. Stahl and his work with actor Claudette Colbert and others
  • Trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by Petty

    New cover by Katya Mezhibovskaya

    January 10, 2023
 

Ronald Epstein

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Justin Ray

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Please don't mistake my next statement as ingratitude- I have no doubt this will look fantastic, and will be a Day 1 purchase for me! I'm merely a bit frustrated that two of Stahl's wonderful weepies from the early 1930s- Back Street and Only Yesterday- remain unreleased on physical media, while Imitation of Life is receiving yet another, albeit refreshed, iteration.
 

RobertMG

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May get this even though I just bought the Universal one that also includes the 1959 version with Lana Turner.
Criterion does it again! Classic --- they have done some great classics Love Affair Arsenic and Old Lace Temple Drake ---- I thought they would announce Gunga Din next
"Din-not" shucks!
 
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Matt Hough

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I'm happy the 1934 version will receive the Criterion treatment. Seems like there are a ton of other deserving 1930s titles that have never been on Blu-ray before, however. Still, this is Louise Beavers' crowning glory on the big screen, so it will be nice to have in (likely) its definitive release.
 

bujaki

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I love this version of Imitation of Life. It's closer to the novel and keeps the character of Beavers on an equal footing with Colbert. It's also Fredi Washington's crowning achievement, sad to say.
Also, sad to say as well, this title and Colbert's name have more recognition today than Margaret Sullavan's (alas!); and Only Yesterday, Sullavan's first film, and Back Street '31 are rather more obscure. I've seen excellent 35mm prints of both, and they're such excellent films!
Stahl's silent films are also worth exploring. A very underrated director.
 

RobertMG

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I'm happy the 1934 version will receive the Criterion treatment. Seems like there are a ton of other deserving 1930s titles that have never been on Blu-ray before, however. Still, this is Louise Beavers' crowning glory on the big screen, so it will be nice to have in (likely) its definitive release.
loved her in Holiday Inn and Mr Blandings!
 

Robin9

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I wonder, will this be a better transfer than the other Blu? I’m torn weather or not to get this edition…
I doubt it. The previous disc, part of package of both films, was very good. The 1934 version looks a lot better than the Douglas Sirk remake. I'd be surprised if Universal had felt a second transfer was necessary.
 
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Bert Greene

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I love this version of Imitation of Life. It's closer to the novel and keeps the character of Beavers on an equal footing with Colbert. It's also Fredi Washington's crowning achievement, sad to say.
Also, sad to say as well, this title and Colbert's name have more recognition today than Margaret Sullavan's (alas!); and Only Yesterday, Sullavan's first film, and Back Street '31 are rather more obscure. I've seen excellent 35mm prints of both, and they're such excellent films!
Stahl's silent films are also worth exploring. A very underrated director.

Fredi Washington also had a good and memorable role in "One Mile From Heaven" (1937-Fox), as a black woman in a black neighborhood found to be rearing a young white child as her own, stirring up a mystery for sob sister Claire Trevor. Interesting little film for its offbeat subject matter... and for Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson playing something of a rotter!
 

battlebeast

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I doubt it. The previous disc, part of package of both films, was very good. the 1934 version looks a lot better than the Douglas Sirk remake. I'd be surprised if Universal had felt a second transfer was necessary.
Then I probably won’t get this new version… the insert/two interviews aren’t worth it. If they had more bonus features, maybe.
 

Thomas T

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I love this version of Imitation of Life. It's closer to the novel and keeps the character of Beavers on an equal footing with Colbert. It's also Fredi Washington's crowning achievement, sad to say.
An admirable film that was daring for its day in its examination of racial identity in a society which restricted access to African Americans. But the film is not without flaws which were later corrected for the superior 1959 Douglas Sirk remake. For example, when Colbert starts her pancake empire, she gives Beavers 20% instead of 50% of the profits and it was her pancake recipe that makes the company a success. Given the financial opportunity to live her own life, Beavers chooses of her own volition to remain a servant to Colbert because she likes taking care of them ... uh-huh! The white mother/daughter relationship lacks the complexity of the Sirk version.
 

RobertMG

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An admirable film that was daring for its day in its examination of racial identity in a society which restricted access to African Americans. But the film is not without flaws which were later corrected for the superior 1959 Douglas Sirk remake. For example, when Colbert starts her pancake empire, she gives Beavers 20% instead of 50% of the profits and it was her pancake recipe that makes the company a success. Given the financial opportunity to live her own life, Beavers chooses of her own volition to remain a servant to Colbert because she likes taking care of them ... uh-huh! The white mother/daughter relationship lacks the complexity of the Sirk version.
Good to see Louise Beavers get above the title billing on the cover which she didn't get in the film itself. The story revolves more around her than Claudette Colbert .

Good to see Louise Beavers get above the title billing on the cover which she didn't get in the film itself. The story revolves more around her than Claudette Colbert .
Yes - sadly Ms Beavers was never a STAR in any picture just supporting == but some of the supporting stars had the best lines!
 

timk1041

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Yes - sadly Ms Beavers was never a STAR in any picture just supporting == but some of the supporting stars had the best lines!
Like her advice to Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) on how to win back Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds) from Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) in Holiday Inn.
 

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