(On Cable TV, September 2019) Being familiar with the 1954 remake of Imitation of Life, I went back to the original film not quite knowing what to expect—considering the ebb and flow of Hollywood racial sensitivity, would the black theme be presented with greater or lesser fidelity? As it turns out, the 1930s version of Imitation of Life has a lot of qualities of its own. It may not be as slick or well-directed as the Douglas Sirk film, but it does have earnestness, and the courage to tackle racial issues just as the Hays Code was cracking down on anything too daring. (One wonders if the film would have been made even a year or two later.) Compared to its successor, this early version feels gentler, but make no mistake—the question of passing is central to Imitation of Life and explored in as much detail at the 1930s could tolerate. Of course, other aspects of the film remain problematic—the whole business of, well, a white person profiting handsomely from a black person’s invention is not remarked upon, and the Delilah character is not only presented as a maid but remains as such even after considerable financial success. (On the other hand, she’s an absolutely central character with her own agenda, mitigating some of the clichés.) Claudette Colbert is fine in the lead role, but whatever happens to her seems like padding for her black friend’s story that forms the backbone of the film—a modern take on the same story would wisely relegate her in a supporting role to someone else’s story and that’s how we assess the limits of this version. Still, grading the film on a historical curve, Imitation of Life doesn’t seem too bad for the time.