#177 Imitation of Life

Watched: April 28 2018

Director: Douglas Sirk

Starring: Lana Turner, John Gavin, Juanita Moore, Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner, Robert Alda

Year: 1959

Runtime: 2h 5min

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On a busy beach, aspiring actress/model Lora Meredith (Turner) is looking for her daughter. She finds the girl in the company of an African-American lady, Annie Johnson (Moore), who she hires as a live-in babysitter after learning she and her daughter are homeless.

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Ah – the good old days when you could invite random people you met at the beach to come live in your home and it didn’t end in murder-robbery but lifelong friendship.

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Lora goes to see a theatrical agent, Allen Loomis (Alda), who basically tells her that to succeed she must prostitute herself, something she’s not yet quite desperate enough to do. However, she gets a break when a playwright likes her honest critique of his play, and is soon catapulted to stardom, much to the chagrin of love interest Steve Archer (Gavin) who’d rather have her be a stay-at-home mom and his wife.

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“Why would you possibly desire to have your own career and make your own money when you can just shack up with me? I forbid it!”

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Lora and Annie stay friends for the next 10+ years, as the former finds success and the latter eventually gets paid for being her maid. Their daughters grow up, but while Lora’s daughter Susie (Dee) is a well-adjusted blonde with a private school education, Annie’s daughter Sarah Jane (Kohner) is light enough to pass for white and develops some serious identity issues.

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“This is America! There’s no way anyone will treat you differently just because they find out that you are black!”

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As is tradition, we loved this Sirk film more than we thought we would. Sarah Jane, though an atrocious dancer and slightly annoying, is a tragically intriguing character, Annie is just the best, Susie is pluckily charming, and Lora is self-centred yet understandably ambitious. And there are also some men there, more often than not screwing up the women’s lives.

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There are also gorgeous costumes and sunglasses to die for

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Lora and Annie’s friendship seems to be fairly mutual even though Annie works for Lora, but we learn that Lora knows absolutely nothing about her friend’s life outside of the house, which is very telling.

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“Friends? What friends? But you cease to exist when I leave the house, don’t you?”

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Imitation of Life is about friendship and family and heritage and sexism and racism and authority. And probably lots of other things as well. We loved it, and we’re now off to plan our funerals. Those things are not to be left to chance.

What we learned: If you love someone, apparently it gives you the right to decide for them. And control them. And be petulant if they make their own decisions. Also, racism sucks!

Next time: North by Northwest (1959)

#144 Written on the Wind

Watched: 19 November 2017

Director: Douglas Sirk

Starring: Lauren Bacall, Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 39min

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After a very brief encounter, aspiring ad-lady Lucy Moore (Bacall) marries philandering alcoholic millionaire oil-heir Kyle Hadley (Stack) when he promises to change for her… This despite her initial attraction to his best (but not as rich) friend Mitch Wayne (Hudson).

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“You are so charming! I hope you have a less handsome friend I can marry!”

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To both their credit, Kyle does change his game during their first year of marriage, and the two are quite happy together. However, when they fail to conceive a child and Kyle learns that the fault lies with him, he falls back into his old ways of drink and aggression.

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“My sperm doesn’t work. I am not a man. I must drink and by no means talk to the people who love me about my insecurities.”

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Meanwhile, Mitch is caught up in a love triangle (square..?); he loves Lucy, Lucy loves Kyle, Kyle’s psychopath sister Marylee (Malone) loves Mitch, and Kyle pretty much loves, but distrusts, all of them.

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Marylee masks her love for Mitch with a string of unsuitable lovers

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Like Sirk’s previous entries, Written on the Wind is a melodrama with lots of twists and turns, and you’re never sure whether or not it will have a happy ending. It’s visually beautiful and “soft,” and the costumes are gorgeous (and very symbolic). Despite Mitch and Lucy being the characters everything (and everyone) revolves around, the Hadley siblings are by far the most intriguing.

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Poor little rich kids

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Their insecurities are understandable and explained, although they both go way overboard in their efforts to compensate for them – Kyle by spending money and drinking, and Marylee by being promiscuous and sabotaging Mitch and Lucy’s lives.

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She is even sexual enough to kill her father. Quite an achievement.

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We loved the costumes, the calendar at the beginning, all the twists and turns, and the crazy Marylee (who we sort of felt sorry for…at first, at least). Also, the scene in the beginning with Lucy and Kyle in the taxi is oddly poignant in these times of sexual harassment allegations. It’s clear that Lucy is on her guard, and that this is not a situation she’s unfamiliar with… Which says a lot, we think.

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Must have been one hell of a conversation in the plane to go from this to marriage…

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What we learned: If you have a problem which affects your marriage, maybe talk to your spouse about it..?

Next time: 12 Angry Men (1957)

#125 All That Heaven Allows

Watched: August 14 2017

Director: Douglas Sirk

Starring: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorehead, Conrad Nagel, Virginia Grey, Gloria Talbott, William Reynolds, Jacqueline deWit

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 29min

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Cary Scott (Wyman) is a youngish widow (typecast much?) with two grown children in college. While her hoity-toity society friends want her to remarry within their social circle, Cary has her eye on gardener and nurseryman Ron Kirby (Hudson).

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And really, who can blame her?

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Luckily for Cary, her feelings are reciprocated, and the unlikely couple start dating. Ron introduces her to his kind and laid-back friends and shows her a whole new way of life – one where material possessions and status do not matter. It’s an appealing thought for a woman trapped within a boring and unfulfilling existence with bitchy women and horn-dog men.

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“But how can I possibly love someone of lower social standing? He’d better be some sort of Disney prince or something!”

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“Nevermind. He totally is!”

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As their relationship becomes gradually more serious, the couple meets with prejudice from Cary’s friends and children. Will they overcome these obstacles? Will love triumph over small-mindedness and social constructs?

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Will Cary be able to downgrade to these awful living conditions and this horrible living room view? Only time will tell.

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It’s only our second Sirk film, but already we’re seeing a pattern (apart from the obvious one of casting the same actors); at the root of everything there is a philosophy. In Magnificent Obsession the idea was that it is one’s duty to help those less fortunate. In All that Heaven Allows, one’s duty is to oneself – to live the way one wants to and not how society expects you to live, and to make choices for oneself and not always put others first.

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The philosophy could also be that rich men are judgmental, entitled, rapey douchebags. We’re not quite ready to rule that interpretation out yet.

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It’s an engaging and fun watch, beautifully shot, and in glorious technicolor. Romantic dramas aren’t really our favourite genre of films, but Sirk does them wonderfully, and we’re enjoying getting to know this director. Great lazy Sunday viewing (although we technically watched it on a Monday. But Monday before work started, so Monday-for-Sunday).

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What we learned: Society’s expectations should not stand in the way of love. Also, to thine own self be true.

Next time: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

#121 Magnificent Obsession

Watched: July 8 2017

Director: Douglas Sirk

Starring: Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman, Barbara Rush, Agnes Moorehead

Year: 1954

Runtime: 1h 48min

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Bob Merrick (Hudson) is a spoiled rich brat whose life is all about indulging his narcissistic personality. After throwing a tantrum when his advisors try to suggest that the weather isn’t really suited for speed racing on the lake, he gets himself into a completely avoidable and potentially fatal accident.

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“That bitch lake had better obey my financial power!”

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On their way to save him, the police pick up a resuscitator from a neighbour with a heart condition. As it is put to use saving the life of the self-centered playboy, the good doctor to whom it belongs succumbs to a heart attack.

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“My husband died from a heart condition while indirectly helping a man with no heart? How very symbolic of him!”

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When Merrick learns what happened, he tries to apologise to the doctor’s widow, Helen Phillips (Wyman) who naturally does not want to hear from the man who cost her husband his life. Merrick, the Phillips family’s jinx, then causes Helen to lose her sight in an accident. You’d think he’d learn to stay away by now, but he keeps pursuing her, taking advantage of her blindness to take on an assumed identity. At least the Phillips’ misfortune(s) bring about a change in Merrick, sending him down a very different path than the one on which he had started.

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“This Bobby sounds like a real piece of work! Good thing I, ehm, Robby, am completely different from this rich bastard!”

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Despite its clear religious undertones and somewhat melodramatic style, we really enjoyed Magnificent Obsession. It is beautiful and sad with some unconventional (albeit at times almost farcical) twists and turns.

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We want all their clothes. Especially Jane Wyman’s.

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It’s always nice to watch the redemption of self-obsessed characters, and this one delivers. We loved Nancy (Moorehead) and the little girl Judy (Nugent), and we LOVED the costumes in glorious technicolor! We liked this more than we thought we would, although we realise that it’s one of those films you have to be in the right mood for. Luckily, we were, and we’re looking forward to more Sirk to come.

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Bask in the gloriousness of my fabulous style!

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What we learned: Given the right motivation, anyone can turn their life around. If they have buttloads of money, at least.

Next time: Bonus post: Baby Driver (2017)