One day at the beach, Lora Meredith (Turner), a recently widowed, struggling actress, meets single black mother Annie Johnson (Moore) when their daughters Susie and Sarah Jane (Dee and Kohner) start playing together. At first Lora assumes Annie is Sarah Jane's nanny because the child is so light-skinned. Lora offers to let them spend the night — an invitation that blossoms into all four living together on an ongoing basis. Lora eventually makes it big on Broadway, and Annie settles in as Lora's devoted housekeeper and confidante. Over time both women grapple with difficult issues, as Lora tries to balance career with romance, and Annie confronts a daughter who wants to pass as white, rejecting her in the process.
"Imitation of Life" is a compulsively watchable melodrama fueled by still-relevant themes of racism, the plight of working women, and the often thorny relationships between mothers and daughters. Director Sirk, in his final production, delivers his trademark cinematic gloss in rich, saturated Technicolor. Glamorous star Turner delivers in a tailor-made role, but it's the dignified, heartfelt performance of Moore that really stays with you (she was Oscar-nominated for this, along with Kohner). When it comes to tearjerkers, don't settle for pale imitations. And don't forget the Kleenex!