At first glance these films don’t share that much in common, however if you dig a little deeper there are some areas of similarity, enough to make this a dream double bill and my contribution to the Lana Turner blog a thon.
For me the main area of similarity is of family, mothers, aspirations for children and the sadness in the child and the mother, I’m thinking specifically here of Sarah Jane and Annie Johnson in ‘Imitation of Life’ and Hans and his mother in ‘The Merchant of Four Seasons’. In both films Sarah Jane and Hans have absent fathers, fathers we never see on screen and both parents have aspirations for their child; Sarah Jane’s’ mother does not want her to be a singer/dancer in a burlesque club and Hans’ mother did not want him to join the foreign legion nor we sense is she happy that he is a fruit seller. Both children, perhaps chose these routes as escape and both children are unhappy and of course both films end in tragedy. It is the endings of these films that set them apart and for me make them and ideally paring.
In addition the influence of Sirk on Fassbinder has been well documented. Here Douglas Sirk recalls his meeting with Fassbinder:
Lugano, usually flooded with sunshine, was covered with snow when a group of young Germans, bundled up in overcoats and fighting an icy wind, trudged up the difficult road to my front door. “It’s us,” he said “Rainer Werner Fassbinder and a couple of my friends.” My wife and I have unforgettable memories of the hours that lay ahead.
We discussed art and literature, theatre and cinema, until the wee hours of the morning. For some reason I no longer recall, I began to speak of classical Spanish theater, mentioning the extraordinary productivity of Calderon and of Lope de Vega, to whom his contemporaries attributed a thousand plays; Calderon, had I think, gotten to about half that number. And of all this work, I told my guests, had been created with the strictest adherence to formal language and style. To make a long story short, Rainer who had listened to me attentively, suddenly said, “I would like to be as prolific as they were.” As we know now, those words were not merely the expression of desire.
What I didn't know was that 'The Merchant of Four Seasons' was the first film Fassbinder made after discovering Sirk. "My encounter with Sirk," he [Fassbinder] would say later, "removed the fear I had of 'selling out.'...Sirk gave me the courage to make films for the public. Before that I believed that serious work meant shunning the Hollywood model.
Quotes from 'Love is Colder Than Death' by Robert Katz and Peter Berling, Paladin, 1989.
IMDB entry for Imitation of Life, link.
IMDB entry for The Merchant of Four Seassons, link.
Imitations of Lifelessness, article from Bright Lights Film Journal by Stephen Handzo, link.
Today is the anniversary of Lana Turner's death. IMDB entry for Lana Turner, link.
Self styled siren's post on Lana Turner, link.
Peter Nellhaus on 'The Sea Chase', link.
Flickhead's Memo on Turner, link.
Micheal Guillen's The Evening Class post on Lana Turner, link.
That Little Round Headed Boy on 'Somewhere I'll Find You', link.
Greenbriar Picture Shows tribute to Lana Turner, link.
Agence Eureka's images of Lana Turner, link.
Self styled siren's post on Sandra Dee, costar with Lana Turner in 'Peyton Place' and 'Imitation of Life', link.