This is a film that you don't think will 'get' to you emotionally. It starts off with enough corn to feed an army, and yet it starts with its sincerity in an earned moment of true and simplrempathy; this is something that is clearer in reflection as the film goes on or after it's over, but when Lana Turner accepts with only a second of an 'oh' and then moves on completely to accept Sarah us Annie's daughter, that's the point right there. Underneath this story is a giant gulf that is all oh white patriarchal society, and while Annie's had to accept it in her way, it screws up Sarah for what appears to be het adolescence. By the time the crushingly tragic end comes - death should be something we accept, but how for someone as genuinely kind as Annie - it puts all the other problems of the movie into perspective. Sirk takes hold of soap opera and makes it as grand as possible, and it fires on all cylinders.
Does this mean you have to be keyed in to the particular flavor of Work a d producer Ross Hunter's corn? Absolutely. I think I found myself laughing a few times early on in the movie and felt embarrassed with myself; this shouldn't be on the film but with me, since it shows through the decades that the sincerity here is named and unabashed (and yeah, clearly the two girks playing Sarah look so white that it seems funny, but that's part of the point too - our assumptions get us all the time every time if we're aware of them). . Sure, this comes with child acting in the first half one gas to get by, but that is easy enough to look past. I don't know if, despite seeing a few other Sirk films, in particular Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows, I just wasn't prepared for how BIG this is even compared to 'Heaven'. But it's also ambitious with its subject matter, certainly for the time.
Imitation also skilfully weaves the two strands of melodrama together, since Turners story in her rise to fame and Sarah with her mother on another work kind of in tandem. The first half is stronger on what we see Lora trying to climb bit by bit to what she wants (and encountering sexism along the way, this would have been apparent before, seeing it today it's so present it's unbelievable but true) and the second to Annie/Sarah with a bit of daughter Susie (Sandra Dee as, I should think as a comment by Sirk, the *whitest*/nicest/blue-eyed thing of the 50s) and Steve (John Gavin, who I swear seems like he came out of the Rock Hudson cloning factory of the time). It's almost like, reflecting after it's all over, a greatest hits compilation of what's been in melodrama and soap operas and grand operas and everything: the push/pull between a mother and daughter - as in Sirk/Hunter looked at Curtiz with Mildred Pierce and said, "hold our beers" - the downsides of a career in show business, first with a too-close collaborator (the writer who falls for the star) then with family... Then it gets a little different but still sticking to those hits: the split of the hot guy between mother and daughter, and racial disparity.
One assumes this story is in the North - Annie even says in not so many words she had to raise her daughter away from where it would get *really* bad - but there's never a beat where Sarah can have any understanding from anyone and for all the mother's good will everything around her poisons her. Pre heart-wrenchinh deathbed scene, Annie says she failed her, wjich is saying she too has been failed by society and the structures that make everyone assume (until she says different) that she's Sarah's "mammy" and not mother. In other words, it's worse than just being straight on black in this America that promises so much until one gets a look at where one is from.
So while it is an unabashed tear-jerking experience, the boldness of the colors (I wish this got a super restoration some day, like 8K not 4) matches that of the performances. It's clearly acting going past such a limit we sjould be used to, but one of the ideas Sirk and the writers of the movie are grappling with is acting, performance, putting on another face (the ultimate tragedy one could say is in Annie and Sarah's last encounter, she gives her what she wants and pretends not to be het mother). So for all of the wild 50s Technicolor brush strokes it's worth seeing for what nuances are there.
And, most especially, Moore's performance which lifts the material another few notches; fur Turner this is a good character to play and she's ready to work, but for Moore at that time in Holkywood for a major studio, this is a giant deal and she is working it with grace and subtlety and warmth and so many things. She's the heart of the movie, but she never plays it so big it's an issue, on the contrary she takes every emotion and finds the truth there. It's been said black women in general in this country have had to work much harder at what they do what white people AND as women. It's a performance that elevates the film from being very good to masterful.