Hallmark Review: Valentine Ever After (2016, dir. Don McBrearty)


Note About Music: If you have come looking for the song at the end, then your answer is This Girl by Justin James. Thanks to Kayla Holder in the comments and Robert Carli for responding to her request about the song. You can find the song here on Justin James’ YouTube channel.

I’ve seen Northern Exposure, Doc Hollywood (1991), Finding Normal (2013), and Christmas Under Wraps (2014). All four of these use the same plot of a doctor who either gets in trouble in a small town or through normal unlucky circumstances winds up having to perform their doctoring services in a small town for a certain amount of time. In Northern Exposure, the doctor simply didn’t read the conditions of his scholarship and wound up being a doctor in a small town in Alaska. In Doc Hollywood, a doctor nearly hits a couple of people walking cattle on a street, but swerves to avoid them and destroys most of a judge’s fence so he has to do a handful of days as doctor in the town. In Finding Normal, a woman taking a cross country trip is pulled over by a cop for speeding and has a litany of past unpaid tickets as well as a warrant out for her arrest. She is sentenced to work as a local doctor in the town she was speeding through. In Christmas Under Wraps, a woman ends up getting an internship at the last minute which means just like Northern Exposure, it’s to Alaska she goes to serve as a local doctor. In all four of those movies/TV Shows, working as a doctor there meant helping to save lives and those towns were in need of a doctor. So let’s see Valentine Ever After’s rehashing of this story.

First off, take a look at those credits. Dylan Neal we know from The Gourmet Detective series. However, Alana Smithee is a new one on me and IMDb…sort of. It is a long standing tradition for people working on films, especially directors, to ask to be credited as Alan Smithee because the film was so taken away from them, recut, or basically changed so heavily that they don’t want to be associated with the movie. Alana Smithee sure reads like that is what happened here to the person who wrote the teleplay for this film and co-wrote the story with Dylan Neal. What’s really interesting is that until I changed it last night on IMDb to match the onscreen credits–you can still find the name on other sites–Teena Booth who has written numerous Hallmark movies was credited as one of the writers. She could be this Alana Smithee since I have no reason to believe there is an actual person with that name who has a completely blank profile with this film as their only credit.

The way it looked last night on IMDb before I updated the page myself.

The way it looked last night on IMDb before I updated the page myself.

This could mean that Teena Booth is Alana Smithee. It could also be a simple mis-crediting. However, there are some other things that are a little funny here. If you go to the plot summary on IMDb, you will find it is written by Becky Southwell. Becky Southwell is Dylan Neal’s wife.

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It’s a little weird to me that she would have put in the plot summary, but not noticed that her husband doesn’t have writing credits listed on IMDb.

Then if you go to IMDb and look at the full credits for the film you will see Dylan Neal listed as an executive producer for the film.

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There is no onscreen credit for Dylan Neal as an executive producer. There are three onscreen credits for producing the film: Steve Solomos, Jonas Prupas, and Joel S. Rice.

Adding even more confusion to the matter, if you go to Muse Entertainment’s website, who was the production company, they list only Jonas Prupas and Joel S. Rice as Executive Producers.


It’s a mess. At the very least, I think it’s highly likely that unless an actual person named Alana Smithee comes forward, then this is probably someone who wanted nothing to do with this film. If you look at the film Hidden 3D (2011) you can see the writers used the names Alan Smithy and Alana Smithy. Considering the material of this movie, I get why someone wouldn’t want to be credited for it. I thought I should lay this out there for you since even last night a question about it had already popped up on IMDb’s message boards for the movie.

Now let’s talk about the actual film. If you know that you are going to watch this movie no matter what I have to say, then skip to the end of the review where I give my advice about how to do that and spare yourself some trouble. I know this is a long review and all. I also mention a list of tactics for figuring out the music in a Hallmark movie. I have noticed that quite a few people look for that information.

The movie opens up in a lawyer’s office and we meet our leading lady named Julia (Autumn Reeser). We find out that not only has her mother passed on, but that she is planning to become a lawyer herself but hasn’t passed the bar exam the first two times. She is working on the website for her father’s firm. The dad offers to have her come over for the weekend so he can help her study to take the bar exam again in a couple of weeks. He is proud of her and says he wishes her mother were here to see how well she has done “filling the empty space in this office” left by her dead mother. The scene began with him congratulating her on a brief she wrote for a case that reminded him of how her mother used to construct an argument. But now it’s off to meet her current boyfriend Gavin (Damon Runyan).

He proposes to her. The movie makes sure we know he is a little odd seeing as he starts the proposal by saying “if there’s one thing you know about me it’s that I pick winners.” On the surface, I will grant you that’s not the most romantic way to begin a proposal. Hallmark movies like to setup the wrong boyfriend with these less than subtle hints that the guy doesn’t see it as a union of two people who love each other, will make a great team together, and will do great things, but simply the latter two parts.

His parents jump in and are little rude about the wedding. Standard stuff for a Hallmark movie.


Now we go to meet Julia’s friend Sydney (Vanessa Matsui). We also see that Julia’s wedding made the papers so we know that she is well known in Chicago where she lives. Sydney speaks tells us her cousin announced at her father’s birthday party that a man named Chad was cheating on her. We also find out that people are calling her all the time about it. Sydney tells her, “Welcome to the upper crust. Say hello to five-star restaurants and goodbye to privacy.” We find out that while Sydney was born into the upper crust lifestyle, Julia had to work her way to get where she is. They decide it would be fun to get out of town for a while and visit Wyoming to go skiing. Sounds neat to me.

Gavin is a little mad that she just suddenly decided to leave town right after he proposed to her. I can understand. He even offers to just drop all the crazy wedding stuff if that is what’s bothering her and just simply go get married now. She doesn’t want to and so he says as long as she comes back. Again, not the perfect choice of words, but nothing here to indicate this is a bad guy. Off to Wyoming we go!

This means we get a shot of a plane and driving on one of those beautiful highways that take you through the mountains. Makes me long for the days when I used to take trips to Lake Tahoe with my parents. Then Sydney tells Julia that the GPS says turn right.


I’m grateful that this is one of those Hallmark movies that knows how GPS works. It doesn’t require cell towers, but just visibility by a couple of satellites orbiting the Earth. However, sometimes the maps can fail you. I haven’t had it happen often, but it does occur. The United States is big. It also doesn’t help when you apparently think you can clear a rock, but it hits the underside of your car. Course they don’t show it cause budget and it really isn’t necessary. Seeing as they really got themselves lost, they are out of range of any cell coverage. To my knowledge, rare in 2016. Even in rural areas where having a way to call for help is rather important.


Lucky for them, a cowboy shows up named Ben (Eric Johnson). I love that he knows about this rock that they hit. Why don’t they move it seeing as they obviously have had other people who have hit it and probably have been stranded out there? Well, don’t worry. It will fit right along with the logic of the upcoming scenes. He helps to take them back to his family ranch called the “Destiny Ridge Ranch”.

Now we have a surprisingly normal conversation around the dinner table. We even find out that Ben wants to make the place a dude ranch. Seems like a great idea to me. He’s quite enthusiastic about it actually. One of the great things about living even next door to San Francisco in a suburb, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be able to go only a few miles and encounter endless parks. Even if places like “Destiny Ridge Ranch” aren’t somewhere you’d want to live, they are great places to visit and help to support the people who do want to live there. However, Sydney stumbles upon something that I guess Ben didn’t think of. That being the question of what are these people going to do at night. All the activities he lists are daytime ones. I can honestly see Ben completely missing that himself. Given where he lives he must be exhausted come night time and probably checks out early to sleep. However, this is when mom chimes in and things start to get weird.


His mom tells him to take the ladies where he goes to have a good time. He takes them to a place called “Million Dollar Cowboy Bar”.


Seems innocent enough. He tells them “it’s a little different than the bars you’re used to.” Doesn’t seem that different to me. We see a waitress serving alcohol. There’s pool tables. There’s live music. There’s a dance floor. I guess because the live music is country music? Definitely a stereotype, but he’s kind about it. He doesn’t call them hicks or drop lines about Italian boots like Autumn Reeser did in the film A Country Wedding. Sydney makes a beeline for the dance floor and Julia sits down at a table with Ben. She takes notice of a statue in the bar.


It’s an important and historical statue for the community. Like the kind of statue a town would keep in a town square or at the local historical society so that it doesn’t get damaged or anything. It’s even worth a “pretty penny”. She asks the obvious about why would you keep it in a bar. Ben tells her that they keep it there where they serve drinks and place it right next to a dance floor so that it’s “where people will be to enjoy it.” Does that sound anywhere near logical to you? Does that mean the bar is the most popular place in town? That statement also doesn’t explain away why something worth a “pretty penny” would be somewhere that even an innocent stumble by a waitress could spill a drink on it. Not to mention all the other hazards introduced by keeping such a important and expensive statue uncovered and in the middle of a bar. But that is enough for Julia and she doesn’t follow this up with any more lines.

We also get a brief appearance by an old school friend of Ben’s who wants to dance, but he obviously doesn’t share her feelings. He doesn’t say that, but just that he’s known her since grade school. Julia says she’s obviously waiting on you to get a clue and notice her. True. Not the best choice of words, but we get no impression that he has told her no and doesn’t respond to Julia’s statement except with the grade school comment. Earlier at dinner there is a little girl who likes to “dote” on him. Julia refers to this lady as another woman who dotes on him. The point being that he is a hot item in town and well liked. He’s also responsible and only orders a club soda since he’s going to be doing the driving.

Here’s a nice shot of how things are laid out in the bar.


Note where the table, Julia (on the left), Ben (on the right), the statue, and the dance floor all are in relation to each other. Now comes the incident.

Sydney is dancing with a man. The man appears to twirl her, but it’s not a full handholding thing. It’s more like she twirled on her own. It causes her to bump into the woman standing behind her holding a drink which spills onto her shirt. The woman asks “What’s wrong with you?!” Sydney apologizes to the woman. She even offers to pay to replace the woman’s shirt. I would call this a simple incident that both of them are at fault for, but it’s the right thing to do on Sydney’s part to offer to pay to replace the shirt she potentially damaged. The woman responds with “I’m asking what you think you’re doing, waltzing in here wearing that getup and flailing all over the place.”

Here is the shot showing Sydney “flailing all over the place” while the woman behind her is flung way far out by her partner.


Here are two shots of the “getup” Sydney is wearing.



She waltzed in there because Ben’s mother told him to take them there. That’s why they are at this bar. Sydney didn’t do anything wrong by dancing on a dance floor.

Now Sydney says, “Ok. You can insult my dancing, but not my fashion sense. I’m not the one wearing country floral in the winter.” Very restrained response to an insult that implies Sydney is a big city slut for simply wearing an expensive dress and dancing on a dance floor.

At this point, Ben and Julia stand up from the table. The lady now says, “This is my favorite shirt. Let’s see how you like it.” The woman throws her drink onto Sydney.


Sydney is surprised by this, stumbles back, and reaches out for something to stabilize her after she has been attacked by the this other woman. She of course ends up touching the statue which causes it to fall over. Julia appears to get up and try and save the statue from falling, but can’t move quickly enough from the table to do so. We don’t see Ben do anything here. The next shot we get of him shows him appearing to be on the dance floor.


That means he appears to have done nothing to stop the statue from falling over even though he was only a few steps from it and was already standing. So of course this goes right where you think it does. The woman who threw her drink on Sydney is arrested, Sydney and Julia are questioned by the cops, and Ben who witnessed the whole thing explains what happened. Nope!



Sydney, who was attacked, is booked and has a mug shot taken of her. Julia, who was sitting at a table, stood up, and tried to stop the statue from falling is also booked and has a mug shot taken of her. Nothing happens to Ben and the girl who attacked Sydney. This all occurred in a room filled with witnesses. Most notably Ben, who saw the whole thing.


Now Julia and Sydney are dragged into the judge’s chamber for an “emergency session”. Note that Julia who is going to become a lawyer is looking at the law books on the shelf. She says, “It means they’re not sure they arrested us on the right charge and they want the judge to weigh in,” when Sydney says she doesn’t understand what an “emergency session” with the judge means. Guess what Julia is looking for on that shelf? She is looking for and finds the “Emmettsville Municipal Code”. That’s when the judge enters the room and immediately takes the book away from her telling her “this is not a library”. The judge, his deputy, and Ben follow in after him.


The judge lays down the hand of the statue and tells them it’s “evidence of the careless destruction of a historical monument. And that’s a felony.” To that Sydney tells the judge it was “an accidental felony”. I would have mentioned that a drink was thrown at me, but the next thing we hear is the deputy tell her that witnesses saw Julia “rush at the statue and push it right over.” Not Sydney who reached out for something to stabilize herself, but Julia who got up and barely had a chance to move towards the statue.

Now we find out from the judge that the “statue was a monument to my great-grandfather, with an appraised value of $30,000.” When Julia asks to see the statute covering this situation because it might be being misinterpreted, she receives a response from the judge saying “are you saying I don’t know the laws of my own county?” She tries to speak, but is interrupted by the judge who tells her “you two are responsible for the willful destruction of this town’s most cherished possession” which they keep in a bar next to a dance floor. And note that he now blames both of them for this supposed felony even though the deputy just said they only have witnesses that said Julia rushed the statue and pushed it over. Ben still hasn’t said a word even though he saw the whole thing.

Now the judge says he’s not an unreasonable man. He threatens to send them to two years in prison. However, he’s willing to be so reasonable and in this room located in the middle of nowhere where they have been dragged to they are going to be offered a plea bargain. He says the charge would be “disorderly conduct”. Apparently, that would only be a misdemeanor and it would give them 30 days in jail. After being asked if this could be settled by a fine, we find out that the judge doesn’t like fines. “He doesn’t feel that people actually learn their lesson that way.”

Finally, Ben actually speaks up. He says why not community service instead of jail. He says he can “personally vouch for these two, that they meant your granddaddy’s statue no harm.” He is willing to “vouch” that they meant his “granddaddy’s statue no harm”, but he’s not going to speak up in their defense as the only witness to this supposed felony. That’s too much for Ben apparently.

The judge finds this reasonable. He says that would be fine with him if Ben kept them at his place. Where? The judge says, “put them in one of those worker’s cabins you got.” He seems to like the fact that it would save “the town the cost of putting them up.” Shockingly Ben responds that it sounds like the judge is trying to punish him, not them. So he considers having to spend any more time with these women as a punishment, but has no problem with them being sent to jail for two years for an accident he witnessed. What’s the judge’s response to this?


He condemns Ben for taking them Charlie’s, which by the way, isn’t even the name of the bar as is clearly seen in the shot of the town. As you can see in the screenshot above, the bar is called the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar actually located in Jackson, Wyoming. It even had a big sign saying WELCOME. Also, it wasn’t Ben who even suggested the idea. His mother told him to take them there. Now it’s time to lay into them a little more for being from Chicago.


He gives them a choice between jail or “community service”. So what’s Julia’s response?


She asks to make a phone call before being forced to be charged with a felony or take a plea bargain. He refuses her request. No opportunity to defend herself. No legal representation. No opportunity to call for legal representation. She just takes the plea bargain. Who knows how long they would actually be held in the county jail for a felony they didn’t commit.

So let’s sum this up. A woman and her friend get lost and a nice man helps them to get to town. The mother of this man tells him to take them to a bar. This bar has a statue valued at $30,000 sitting in the middle of a place that serves liquid that causes you to lose control of your mind and body. They also place it next to a dance floor. Then one of these woman twirls on the dance floor, doesn’t fling out far from her partner, but bumps a drink another woman is holding behind her. She offers to pay to replace this woman’s shirt. That woman responds by attacking her by throwing her drink at her. While shocked by the drink thrown on her, she reaches out, and touches this statue. As the statue begins to fall, this woman’s friend tries to prevent it from falling. These two woman, not the woman who caused the incident, are arrested and dragged before a judge. The judge threatens, insults, and intimidates them into either spending two years in jail or serving 30 days of labor with the suggestion they be held in “worker’s cabins”.

And that is only 21 minutes and 23 seconds into this film. Are you happy or want to sit through this Valentine’s Day romance film? I sure as hell wasn’t and didn’t want to. No wonder it appears the screenwriter didn’t want their name on this. The original title of the movie was Disorderly Conduct. I can only imagine the screenplay laid this out in a manner that makes sense, but after seeing how the filmmakers actually implemented it, they didn’t want anything to do with it.

I’ve taken up a lot of your time so let’s try and get through the rest of this fast.

The two ladies are then put up in the cabin and given a heater. Then the next morning comes and someone must have realized they really needed a way to explain away the previous scenes. Julia wakes up to a call on her cellphone. It’s her fiancee. He can’t believe she took a plea bargain on a “bogus charge”. He asks if she called her father who runs a legal firm. She says yes, but that he told her “that in a small town, the judge can basically do anything he likes.” Julia then says, “Technically, we did break the law, even though we didn’t do it on purpose, and we were lucky to get this offer.” Any follow up on that? Nope, just implications that maybe she took this judge’s offer because she didn’t want to marry him. Also, no I’m on my way honey from the father because you should have at least been allowed legal defense, you’re my daughter, and I should come there. None of that. The movie is now setup for the typical woman from the city discovers she prefers country life that Hallmark has done so many times over.

In Finding Normal (2013) they had the judge be smart, kind, reasonable, and offer her the option to pay a fine. Also, his charge is “16 hours, 8 hours a day, community service”.


Finding Normal (2013, dir. Brian Herzlinger)

Now you get the normal stuff. The ladies learn the typical duties on a ranch. Some are fun like learning to ride horses. Some are not so fun, but they are the realities of living on a ranch. They also are able to help out in the community. Julia even overhears that Ben’s ranch isn’t doing so well and tries to help. Of course you know he’s stubborn about that, but she pushes. The mother gives Julia some backstory one how the ranch ended up in the financial predicament it’s in. Basically, the big corporations are to blame, development in the town, and one thing lead to another. The recession didn’t help either. Strangely, the mother tells her that’s why he won’t take her money to help out. No mention of this dude ranch he was obviously trying to put together to transform his place into a source of revenue.

During this stuff they make sure to show that Sydney is clumsy by having her mess up driving a tractor and dropping a window. Nope, she was attacked in that bar. This doesn’t change that fact.

There’s a scene during this that I actually like. Sydney gets assigned to work with a stubborn old guy at a hospital. Well, not stubborn for long. Sydney is checking Twitter instead of talking to him. He says that the last girl “was so chatty, she got on my nerves but right now, I’m starting to miss her.” To her response that she is checking Twitter, he says he knows what Twitter is. He is even interested in what she is doing on there. But it gets better. He asks her exactly how she ended up having to do this for him. As she starts to explain that it was “just a disorderly accident” and that it was at Charlie’s bar he interrupts her and calls the place a dump.


Yeah, this guy calls the place with this apparent town treasure “a dump”. It’s like the screenwriters came in after those earlier scenes and tried to rewrite the remainder of the film to try and make up for it. Or this is some of the original screenplay. Don’t believe me? After a brief conversation with the mother we cut to the judge.

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He’s watching cat videos. We even get the girls visiting him in a comical matter as if he is actually a lovable judge who really does have a kind heart. The girls come to him because they want to do something a little unusual to raise money for the hospital that is need. The ranch is going to host it. The judge even likes the idea. However, then we get two more sets of people who are sent by the judge to the ranch for community service.


Umm…considering how Julia and Sydney wound up there it makes me wonder if these people’s “multiple parking tickets” are real. This happens one more time too.


I get a weird feeling that we are supposed to read these as volunteers that are sent there under the cover of doing community service cause the judge knows they need the help, but considering the beginning, I don’t know.

Now the film goes on auto-pilot. All you really need to know is that the fiancee shows up along with Julia’s family for this grand fundraiser. That’s when we get the scene to make the fiancee a villain. After starting out kind, then being a little nasty talking about Julia, he says “but if Julia develops a taste for the coddling the downtrodden, well, I’ll just have to put my foot down.” Sound familiar? There is a near identical scene in Unleashing Mr. Darcy. Except there it’s not to vilify Mr. Darcy, but simply to provide a last minute romantic speed bump. Unleashing Mr. Darcy was written by Teena Booth. I can’t help but wondering if she is Alana Smithee.

Now the film has Julia kick Gavin to the curb and go after Ben. She buys him in a cowboy auction, and they dance. What’s weird is how uncomfortable he is dancing with her. It’s probably nothing, but in addition to his behavior around the woman he knew from grade school at the bar, it seems a little odd. Regardless, they end up together.


So why the setup that I’m sorry, is offensive. It could have been fixed so easily too. That’s what angers me more than anything. I felt the same way about A Gift Of Miracles. The simplest thing would have been to have Julia just decide this town is an interesting place to take her vacation after accidentally ending up there. I know there are stupid people out there, but I don’t expect the movie to make me believe that two girls on vacation must be forced to spend time in the town or they would leave. The place where the bar is located is in Jackson, Wyoming. That’s a town surrounded by a bunch of large parks including Yellowstone National Park. If they wanted to keep as much of the script as possible, then start by having the girl who attacked get punished appropriately. If you carefully watch the scene at the bar when the incident occurs then you’ll notice they made sure to direct all the non-principle actors to be completely oblivious to what is going on till Julia has rushed forward to try and save the statue. It’s a little ridiculous, but it’s also a movie and I think most people would have let that slide if they were paying attention to notice that everyone else was just minding their own business. Have Ben go use the restroom and come out just afterwards so he isn’t shown as lying to the judge and his deputy. Have the judge suggest the community service in the first place. I wouldn’t like the judge so much for not offering or even demanding the money to repair the statue, but again, it’s a movie and I can let that slide. These would have all been little changes that wouldn’t have cost a dime to make. They wouldn’t even have had to have the lady who threw the drink appear in the movie again and thus potentially pay her more. Ugh! It’s not as bad as Your Love Never Fails/A Valentine’s Date. That one is disturbing. I still do not recommend this movie.

If you are going to watch this anyways, then I highly recommend recording it or in some way not coming till after 22 minutes of the movie. The rest really isn’t bad at all.

I said it already, but I’ll say it again. The guy at the hospital is pretty awesome. He really is. I loved him. The character’s name is George and he is played by actor Eric Peterson. Kudos, Eric! The world needs more small, but excellent character actors like you.

For those who are looking for things like the songs in this or any Hallmark movie: I try to pay attention to the search terms on my reviews and also always try to respond to comments. I have noticed people looking for the name of songs in Hallmark movies and winding up on my reviews. Luckily for the person who did so to find out the song at the end of Dater’s Handbook, it was an REO Speedwagon song and was prominently featured in the movie and my review. Another time I was asked kindly in the comments section if I knew who did a particular song in a Hallmark Christmas movie. I bent over backwards trying to find the answer for them. I did and responded to them. I didn’t receive a thank you, but was suddenly greeted by a down vote on my review the very next day instead. Regardless of whether it was the same person or a coincidence, I’m going to give you a little lesson on how to figure this stuff out for yourself. Here’s what I would do:

1. Check the movie’s credits. This doesn’t always work, but some Hallmark movies do credit the songs that are in the film.
2. Get to the relevant scene, turn up the volume, and use an app such as SoundHound. That’s an application for phones that is amazingly powerful at listening to small snippets of a song and managing to find out exactly who the song is by and on what album you can find it. That’s how I was finally able to answer the person who had asked for my help.
3. Turn on captioning so if the song has lyrics then you have something to Google. Make sure you get the words right and place them within quotes. Sometimes adding the word “lyrics” outside the actual lyrics can help. Again, surprisingly effective. It helps if the song is well known, but it’s Google. They have reached into every dark corner of the Internet.
4. This one is a little bit of a long shot, but not too much. Try contacting someone involved in the movie. Hallmark has an official Twitter account and I’m sure has a presence on Facebook. Shoot the production company a message if you can find them. Sometimes you can get really lucky and there is actually an official Twitter account for the movie in question. I know The Christmas Note and Love On The Sidelines have/had them. Also, you can find people who worked on the film on social media. It can’t hurt to ask. People can be remarkably responsive and kind if you are to them.

I probably should create a whole post to lay out these instructions, but I have gone ahead and included them here as well.

I know that the majority of people appreciate me not acting like a PR department, but trying to give you my honest opinion about Hallmark films I see. However, my disabilities make it very hard for me to take things such as totally anonymous down votes when I can clearly see exactly what in my review triggered it. I have disabled my ability to see those so I can continue to write these reviews. I hope you can understand.

If you’ve reached here, then I thank you for putting up with me.

Artist Profile: Ernest “Darcy” Chiriacka (1913 — 2010)


Born in New York to Greek parents, Anastassios Kyriakakos painted covers for several pulp magazines and paperback publishers.  (Ernest Chiriacka was the English translation of his Green name.)  From 1939 until he retired in 1965, Chiriacka did covers for  Ace-High Western, Adventure, Big Book Western, Black Book Detective, Detective Fiction Weekly, Dime Western, Exciting Detective, Fifteen Western Tales, 44. Western, G-Men Detective, New Detective, Phantom Detective, Rodeo Romances, Star Western, Sweetheart Stories, Ten Detective Aces, 10-Story Western, Texas Rangers, Thrilling Mystery, West,and Western Aces.  After retiring from commercial illustration, Chiriacka devoted himself to paintings inspired by the old west.

argosyBy Love DepravedDetective FictionDime DetectiveFaithful To NoneJohnny Come DeadlyLover Let Me LiveNever Love A ManObject of LustThe Bixby Girlswesterns100

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Imitation of Life (dir by John M. Stahl)

Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington in Imitation Of Life

Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington in Imitation Of Life

The 1934 film Imitation of Life opens with Delilah Johnson (Louise Beavers) standing on the back porch of a house owned by widowed mother Bea Pullman (Claudette Colbert).  Delilah says that she’s come for the housekeeping position.  Bea tells her that there is no housekeeping position and quickly figures out that Delilah has the wrong address.  As Delilah wonders how she’s going to get to the other side of town in time to interview for the job, Bea hears her toddler daughter falling into the bathtub upstairs.  After Bea rescues her daughter, she agrees to hire Delilah as a housekeeper.

The rest of the film tells the story of their friendship.  It turns out that, because she knows an old family recipe, Delilah can make the world’s greatest pancakes.  Bea decides to go into business, selling Delilah’s pancakes and using Delilah as the product’s mascot.  Soon Delilah’s smiling face is on billboards and she’s known as Aunt Delilah.  When it comes time to incorporate the business, Bea and her partner, Elmer (Ned Sparks), offer Delilah 20% of the profits.  They tell Delilah that they’re all going to be rich but Delilah protests that she doesn’t want to be rich.  She just wants to take care of Bea and help to raise Bea’s daughter.

Delilah, incidentally, is African-American while Bea is white.

Despite the fact that Imitation of Life is considered to be an important landmark as far as Hollywood’s depiction of race is concerned, I have to admit that I was really uncomfortable with that scene.  First off, considering that Delilah was the one who came up with recipe and her face was being used to sell it, it was hard not to feel that she deserved a lot more than just 20%.  Beyond that, her refusal felt like it was largely included to let white audiences off the hook.  “Yes,” the film says at this point, “Delilah may be a servant but that’s the way she wants it!”

It was a definite false note in a film that, up to that point and particularly when compared to other movies released in the 30s, felt almost progressive in its depiction of American race relations.  Up until that scene, Bea and Delilah had been portrayed as friends and equals but, when Delilah refused that money, it felt like the film had lost the courage of its convictions.

However, there’s a shot that occurs just a few scenes afterwards.  Several years have passed.  Bea is rich.  Delilah is still her housekeeper but now the house has gotten much larger.  After having a conversation about Delilah’s daughter, Bea and Delilah walk over to a staircase and say goodnight.  Bea walks upstairs to her luxurious bedroom while, at the same time, Delilah walks downstairs to her much smaller apartment.  It’s a striking image of these two women heading different directions on the same staircase.  But it also visualizes what we all know.  For all of Delilah’s hard work, Bea is the one who is sleeping on the top floor.  It’s a scene that says that, even if it couldn’t openly acknowledge it, the film understands that Delilah deserves more than she’s been given.  It’s also a scene that reminds us that even someone as well-intentioned and kind-hearted as Bea cannot really hope understand what life is truly like for Delilah.

The film itself tells two stories, one of which we care about and one of which we don’t.  The story we don’t care about deals with Bea and her spoiled child, Jessie (Rochelle Hudson).  Jessie develops a crush on her mom’s boyfriend, Steve (Warren William).  It’s really not that interesting.

The other story is the reason why Imitation of Life is a historically important film.  Delilah’s daughter, Peola (Fredi Washington), is of mixed-race ancestry and is so light-skinned that she can pass for white.  Throughout the film, Peola desperately denies being black and, at one point, stares at herself in a mirror and demands to know why she can’t be white.  When Peola goes to school, she tells her classmates she is white and is mortified when Delilah shows up at her classroom.  When Peola gets older, she attends an all-black college in the South but, eventually, she runs away.

When Delilah tracks her daughter down, Peola is working as a cashier in a restaurant.  When Delilah confronts her, she is almost immediately confronted by the restaurant’s owner, who angrily tells her that the restaurant is a “whites only” establishment.  Peola pretends not to know her mother.

Beyond the confrontation between Peola and Delilah, that scene in the restaurant is important for another reason.  It’s the only time that the film provides any direct evidence as to why Peola wants to pass for white.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  We all know why Peola thinks that society will treat her differently if it believes that she’s white.  (And we also know that she’s right.)  But this scene is the first time that the film itself acknowledges the fact that, in America, a white girl is going to have more opportunities than a black girl.  Up until that point, white audiences in 1934 would have been able to dismiss Peola as just being selfish or unappreciative but, with this scene, the film reminds viewers that Peola has every reason to believe that life would be easier for her as a white girl than as an African-American.  It’s a scene that would hopefully make audiences consider that maybe they should be angrier with a society that allows a restaurant to serve only whites than they are with Peola.  It’s a scene that says to the audience, “Who are you to sit there and judge Peola when you probably wouldn’t even allow Delilah to enter the theater and watch the movie with you?”

Imitation of Life was nominated for best picture of the year and, though it lost to It Happened One Night,  Imitation of Life is still historically important as the first best picture nominee to attempt to deal with racism in America.  (Despite a strong pre-nomination campaign, Louise Beavers failed to receive a nomination.  It would be another 5 years before Hattie McDaniel would be the first African-American nominee and winner for her role as Mammy in Gone With The Wind.  Interestingly enough, McDaniel got the role after Beavers turned it down.)

Following the box office success of Imitation of Life, there were several films made about “passing.”  The majority of them starred white actresses as light-skinned African-American characters.  Imitation of Life was unique in that Fredi Washington, who played Peola, actually was African-American.  As will be obvious to anyone who watches Imitation of Life, Fredi Washington had both the talent and the beauty to be a major star.  However, she was considered to be too sophisticated to play a maid or to take on any of the comedy relief roles that were usually given to African-American performers.  (And, as an African-American, no major studio would cast her in a lead or romantic role.)  As such, her film career ended just three years after Imitation of Life and she spent the next 50 years as a stage performer and a civil rights activist.  (For an interesting look at the history of African-Americans in the film industry, I would suggest checking out Donald Bogle’s Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood.)  

Like Peola, Washington herself could have passed for white.  She was often asked if she was ever tempted to do so.  I’m going to end this review with the answer that she gave to a reporter from The Chicago Defender:

“I have never tried to pass for white and never had any desire, I am proud of my race. In ‘Imitation of Life’, I was showing how a girl might feel under the circumstances but I am not showing how I felt.  I am an American citizen and by God, we all have inalienable rights and wherever those rights are tampered with, there is nothing left to do but fight…and I fight. How many people do you think there are in this country who do not have mixed blood, there’s very few if any, what makes us who we are, are our culture and experience. No matter how white I look, on the inside I feel black. There are many whites who are mixed blood, but still go by white, why such a big deal if I go as Negro, because people can’t believe that I am proud to be a Negro and not white. To prove I don’t buy white superiority I chose to be a Negro.”