German émigré Douglas Sirk’s last movie in Hollywood is a coldly brilliant weepie, a rags-to-riches tale of two intertwined families in which materialistic optimism is continually undercut by racial tension and the degeneration of blood bonds. A remake of John M. Stahl’s 1934 race picture (as they were called), Sirk’s stylish update deals with a light-skinned black girl (Susan Kohner) who attempts to pass for white. Her mother is a maid (the relatively unknown Juanita Moore, who acts star Lana Turner off the screen).
Despite the film’s happy ending, what one remembers is a steadily increasing hopelessness, given its most glorious visual expression at an extravagant funeral, the only moment in the entire picture when matters of estrangement are abolished. Ignore those who pooh-pooh ’50s Hollywood melodrama; through this hyperemotional genre, Sirk was able to make a devastatingly embittered and pessimistic movie.