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CABIN IN THE SKY (director/writer: Vincente Minnelli; screenwriters: Joseph Schrank/from the play by Lynn Root, John Latouche, and Vernon Duke; cinematographer: Sidney Wagner; editor: Harold F. Kress; music: Vernon Duke; cast: Ethel Waters (Petunia Jackson), Eddie “Rochester” Anderson (Little Joe), Lena Horne (Georgia Brown), Louis Armstrong (The Trumpeter), Rex Ingram (Lucius, Lucifer, Jr.), Butterfly McQueen (Lily), Ruby Dandridge (Mrs. Kelso), Kenneth Spencer (God’s General/Rev. Greene), ‘Bubbles’ John W. Sublett (Domino Johnson), Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (Himself), Bill Bailey (Bill), Ernest Whitman (Jim Henry); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Freed; MGM; 1943)
“All-black 1943 musical and moralistic fable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Vincente Minnelli (“Bells are Ringing”/”An American in Paris”) debuts as a feature film director in this all-black 1943 musical and moralistic fable about a husband from a good religious family distracted by gambling, liquor and a foxy saloon woman. Cabin In The Sky was the first all-black musical in fourteen years and only the fourth all-black film by a major studio since the talkie. MGM gives it a classy presentation. It’s based on the hit Broadway stage show by Lynn Root, John Latouche, and Vernon Duke. The film was a product of its times and though meaning well nevertheless it reinforced the childlike stereotype of blacks. But the characters were all handled with compassion and it showed some signs of Minnelli’s future talents even though it was stilted, lacked imagination and failed to be inspiring in its old-fashioned messages against sin. It remained much like the play except for Eddie “Rochester” Anderson (known primarily as Jack Benny’s radio sidekick) in his first and only starring role in films. He took over the lead at the studio’s insistence because of name recognition from the play’s star Dooley Wilson (the pianist/singer named Sam from the 1942 Casablanca who performed “As Time Goes By”).

Gambler Little Joe (Eddie “Rochester” Anderson) is critically wounded in a barroom fight over a crooked dice game when he was supposed to be in church and dedicating his life to the Lord by turning over a new leaf as he promised his wife. His pious Christian wife Petunia (Ethel Waters) prays for him to have another chance so he can get into heaven. Little Joe dreams that the prayers work and that he’s granted a trial period of six months on Earth to find out whether he can reform; he’s told he will not remember this, as God’s General (Kenneth Spencer) and Lucifer, Jr. (Rex Ingram) begin the battle for his soul. The weak-minded Little Joe must overcome his temptations for dice and the sexy temptress singer in Jim Henry’s Paradise sinful dance hall, Georgia Brown (Lena Horne), and must pay back his heavy gambling debts.

The many songs include the following: “Cabin in the Sky,” “Honey in the Honeycomb,” “Li’l Black Sheep,” “Ain’t It The Truth,” “Life’s Full Of Consequences,” “Taking A Chance On Love,” “Going Up,” “I Got A Song,” “Shine,” and”Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”