Deep In the Dial: Imitation of Life (1939)

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Welcome to Deep In the Dial, where we highlight films and television that satisfies, surprises, and wasn’t developed in a writer’s room this year. Tonight I heartily recommend Imitation of Life, with a side of flapjacks (I’m serious).

TCM airs the first adaptation of Fanny Hurst’s weepy story of mothers and daughters tonight at 8 p.m. (The best known adaptation, the Lana Turner-starring 1959 film by Douglas Sirk is absolutely worth your time.)

Claudette Colbert is single, white widow Bea, who befriends and takes in black widow Delilah as a boarder. They become fast friends and find success on the Atlantic City boardwalk thanks to Delilah’s pancakes. Many years later Bea’s spoiled daughter falls in love with her mother’s boyfriend, a plot conflict I only understand thanks to Jane to Virgin (because Xo’s love for Jane is communicated so gracefully, not because Jane is after Xo’s boyfriend).

But more significant is the story of Delilah and her daughter Peola, who struggles to navigate a racist world while passing and denying her parentage. I hope you’re ready for a good cry, because the film’s finale will destroy you.

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