Juanita Moore and Lana Turner in Imitation of Life
Susan Kohner in Imitation of Life
Joan Crawford and Sterling Haden, Johnny Guitar
Eleanor Griffin and Allan Scott (screenplay), based on a novel by Fannie Hurst, Douglas Sirk (director) Imitation of Life / 1959
Phillip Yordan, Ben Maddow, and Nicholas Ray (screenplay), based on a novel by Roy Chanslor, Nicholas Ray (director) Johnny Guitar / 1954
and suddenly I saw a headline
LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED!
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up
On August 21 of this year, I attended the 50th anniversary showing of Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life. At the Samuel Goldwyn Theater of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, the audience was also treated to a special interview of the remaining living major cast members, Juanita Moore (who plays Annie Johnson) and Susan Kohner (who played Annie's daughter, Sarah Jane) by Susan Kohner's son Paul Weitz and film critic Stephen Farber.
Los Angeles, August 22, 2009
A few days after seeing Imitation of Life, I happened upon a television broadcast of Johnny Guitar, a movie I'd seen once or twice previously, which I suddenly saw in a new way within the context of Sirk's movie. Like Sirk, Ray has often been praised (and criticized) for locating his films in the context of popular genres (in Ray's case most often in teenage melodramas such as his Rebel without a Cause) and for his oversaturated color prints. In this work of 1954 Ray attempts a Western—if you can call it that. For Ray's "western," as François Truffaut has described it, is "phony"; or, if it is a western, it's "the Beauty and the Beast of Westerns, a Western dream."
Johnny: How many men have you forgotten?
Vienna: As many women as you've remembered.
Johnny: Don't go away.
Vienna: I haven't moved.
Johnny: Tell me something nice.
Vienna: Sure, what do you want to hear?
Johnny: Lie to me. Tell me all these years you've waited. Tell me.
Vienna: [without feeling] All those years I've waited.
Johnny: Tell me you'd a-died if I hadn't come back.
Vienna: [without feeling] I woulda died if you hadn't come back.
Johnny: Tell me you still love me like I love you.
Vienna: [without feeling] I still love you like you love me.
Johnny: [bitterly] Thanks. Thanks a lot.
In truth, Vienna has sent for Johnny Guitar to help her in her fight against the ranchers. She seems so self-sufficient, however, so able to keep the ranchers and sheriff at bay, that both her male suitors are almost insignificant. As she puts it to those who would take her off to jail, standing, as she does for much of the early parts of the movie, at the top of a staircase: "Down there I sell whiskey and cards. Up here all you can get is a bullet in your head."
Quickly changing back into blouse and pants, she leads Johnny into an underground passage that takes the two to their destiny: the hideout of the Dancing Kid's gang and the long-expected duel between the two women.
Los Angeles, August 25, 2009
Both parts reprinted in Green Integer Blog (August 2009).
Copyright (c) 2009 by Cinema International Review and Douglas Messerli