Lana Turner, like Robert Taylor, her male counterpoint at M.G.M., never got the respect she deserved. Indeed, despite a sultry and sensational performance in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, in which she held her own with the great John Garfield, and her sensitively multi-faceted and Oscar-worthy work in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, critics continued to regard her as a merely ornamental glamour girl, a label which has wrongfully remained attached to her image even today. It's hoped that the dvd release of two of her late-career box-office bonanzas will at last alter the perceptions of those who claim to have some knowledge of what fine film acting is all about.



Turner received her only Oscar nomination for this, probably the best adaptation of a truly trashy novel ever made, and it isn't difficult to see why. Despite the excellent work of such old pros as Lloyd Nolan, Arthur Kennedy, Betty Field, Mildred Dunnock, Leon Ames and newcomers Hope Lange and Diane Varsi, it is really Turner who holds this potentially tawdry tale of the ugliness that hides behind the picture-perfect facade of a New England town by skillfully underplaying what could have been a hokey, overly theatrical exercise in self-indulgence by a less centered actress.   

At the risk of repeating myself, I can remember no instance when a bestseller of so little literary merit was turned into a film of such comparatively high quality as this PEYTON PLACE, thanks primarily to the contributions of producer Jerry Wald, screen-scribe John Michael Hayes, and director Mark Robson (who would, ten years later, turn the similarly trashy bestseller VALLEY OF THE DOLLS into a cinematic junkpile-----so much for lightning striking twice.). This Fox Studio Classics dvd rendition is a good one, with an anamorphic transfer that highlights William Mellor's lustrous New England cinematography (the package lists the aspect ratio at 2.35:1, but it looks more like 2.25:1 to me) and the 4.0 stereo surround track really makes Franz Waxman's beautiful, if at times intrusive, score, shine.                                             



In sharp contrast to the relative restraint of PEYTON PLACE, the 1959 version of IMITATION OF LIFE (a remake of the 1934 version which Universal has generously included on this disc) pulls out all the stops. Everything about this Ross Hunter film is W-A-Y over the top, from the loud, gaudy colors, the glittering women's fashions, the un-subtle performances, the schmaltzy music, and the typically overwrought direction of Douglas (PLEASE CRY!) Sirk. Everything, that is, except the nothing-less-than-miraculous-in-these-circumstances performance of Lana Turner, whose intelligent, tasteful, and carefully modulated performance is in stark contrast to the hysterical goings-on around her. Indeed, so strong and grounded a centerpiece is she here, that I submit that she is the primary reason why this IMITATION OF LIFE was by far the biggest hit Universal had that year and why even today, women in particular will be transfixed and entranced by it.

In point of fact , the 1934 production of this emotionally-charged story about two widows and their troubled daughters is infinitely superior to the later one. Directed with comparative calmness and assurance by John M. Stahl, and very well acted by Claudette Colbert, Warren William, Louise Beavers and a typical thirties cast, the story is told in a  straightforward fashion that makes the far-fetched plot more compelling to experience than the remake. The full-frame 1.33:1 black-and-white transfer of the '34 version is surprisingly strong, with a clarity and grey-scale that far exceeded my expectations, while the anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1  transfer of the '59 remake, though exhibiting a certain amount of grain in a few scenes, successfully shines the spotlight on the garish colors that dominate this IMITATION.                                             

Universal's canny inclusion of both versions of IMITATION OF LIFE make this dvd a great bargain for those so inclined to wallow in this weepy wonderland.


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