Cabin in the Sky (1943) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
58 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
10/10
Enjoy the DVD... Beware the commentary!
benoit-320 January 2006
This exquisite first film by Vincente Minnelli just came out on DVD along with another all-Black musical of the period starring Lena Horne, "Stormy Weather". As delightful as both those films are, and although they are produced by two different companies, their DVD presentation is marred by audio commentaries by the very same Dr. Todd Boyd, Professor of critical studies at USC. To call the man a pompous bore would be to imitate him by stating the obvious. These commentaries, which are all about painfully deconstructing every single aspect of the racial clichés and supposedly harmful depictions of Black people contained in those films and are full of precious profundities like "Notice how the dancers smile too much, which is a hateful racial stereotype", were evidently put together in a commendable spirit of political correctness. Unfortunately, the good Doctor has a tendency to repeat every worthwhile point he makes at least five times and is totally blind to the wonderful qualities of those films, with the end result that he robs the viewing experience of all joy, discovery, wonderment and spontaneity. He also fails to point out the qualities and positive aspects of each production and is totally unreliable when it comes to identifying wonderful performers (and performances) who will otherwise remain eternally nameless, undocumented and unpraised. The harm done is less pronounced on the "Cabin in the Sky" DVD, where his debunking and killjoy duties are somewhat mitigated by the presence of his colleague Prof. Drew Casper, who is at least knowledgeable about the films of Minnelli, and relatives of Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, who do a good job describing the human side of the real star of the film. "Cabin in the Sky" is one of the best fantasy-comedy-musical films ever made and boasts some of the best stage and recording talents of the XXth Century. When you watch it, do yourself a big favour: Enjoy it for what it is - a masterpiece - and turn Professor Boyd's platitudes off!!!
74 out of 83 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Outstanding Movie!!!
ernieswanks_75711 April 2004
I would like to take the time to express what an OUTSTANDING MOVIE "Cabin in The Sky" is. As an African-American Male, I must say this Movie is really ahead of it's time in the way it depicted that whole setting with the "Soldiers of the Lord's Army", & "The Devil" (Lucifer Jr.), & his "followers".

That whole theory as it pertains (Biblically), to Men & Women "grappling" with their conscience to do the "Right Thing", dealing with the "forces" of "good vs. evil", really comes to light here.

You actually see "Lucifer Jr." arguing with the "General" of God's Army about the "rules" & regulations on how to get "Little Joe" (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson), to commit sin & do the wrong things.

I've been raised in the African-American Baptist Church, and for me, it just seemed as if these characters came to life just like it was taught in Sunday School & Church!!!

I'm also amazed at the "ethnic insight" of the Director Vincente Minnelli. He picked the "RIGHT" Black Actors to portray the various characters that had the ability to get the point(s) across effectively.

Considering this Movie/Musical was being shown to an audience in 1943 America, (WHICH WAS STILL VERY RACIST), Director Minelli seemed to make the "connection" without any problem at all.

Of course, the cast was an All Star, All Black cast which was good for the Actors/Actresses because it gave them much needed work. I could relate to the part of "Petunia" played by Ethel Waters. She reminded me of a really nice Woman who currently attends my Church.

Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Rex Ingram, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, & a host of others, came together to make this Movie one of the "Great Ones" in my opinion. These Actors/Actresses are all gone now, but their talent will remain in the hearts & minds of many fans as well as movie history which I'm sure will be kind to them.

"Cabin in The Sky!!" A great Movie that I would highly recommend for the entire Family.
48 out of 54 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Something that all ages can yet relate to...
hopeh332 November 2005
I must admit, as a support to the Harlem Renaissance, I show this film to my students. No child has ever been left unaffected at seeing this film. What a wonderfully touching film. It addresses real issues of today in a yesterday atmosphere. The cinematography is somewhat lacking, but for the 1940s that is of no diminish to the beauty of this film. In addition, it is yet a marker to the contribution of the African American to the film industry and well worth the title of one of life's best kept African American secrets. The actors in the film also warrant acclaim for this. This all person-of-color film is so lovely, emotion filled and real, who would not want to spend their time evaluating its worth? As a 7th grade Language Arts instructor who is greatly proud of her heritage and the contributions my ancestors and friends have made, I am indeed proud of this cinematic star-studded glimpse of the past. And, I still cry every time I watch it today...
45 out of 52 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
"An acre or two of heavenly blue"
Steffi_P18 September 2008
Cabin in the Sky marks the debut of director Vincente Minnelli, one of cinema's greatest and most prolific directors of musicals. Already an experienced stage director, pianist and perhaps most importantly of all a painter, Minnelli came to Hollywood as the protégé of lyricist-turned producer Arthur Freed – one of the most significant names in the development of the screen musical.

Although this is one of his cheaper productions (as evidenced by the simplicity of the sets and the use of borrowed footage) Cabin in the Sky is no exception to the typical Freed pattern of assembling a wide variety of musical talent. Here we get to enjoy virtually all the biggest names in black entertainment of the day – the gorgeous singing voice of Ethel Waters, the musicianship of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, the dancing of Bill Bailey and John William Sublett, to name just a few. With this line-up, Cabin in the Sky was bound to be a great show, but it was also likely to fall into the same trap as many of the Freed musicals – that you might have a great variety show, but not a unified, coherent musical.

This is somewhat the case here, especially as the story is rather flimsy and clichéd. What saves it is Freed's firm belief in the integrated musical (every song woven into the plot) and Minnelli's inventive direction. Freed more or less gave Minnelli free rein over the staging of the musical numbers. Whereas in many of the earlier musicals there is a very conscious break in style whenever a song begins, in Cabin in the Sky each number flows seamlessly into the action. For example, in "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe", Ethel Waters' singing begins with no prior cues to the audience that a song is about to start. The narrative then leaps ahead to her hanging out the washing while the song continues. The number finishes with Rex Ingram and his Buddy appearing from behind a sheet, leading us into the next scene. The narrative has not taken a break for the song – it has continued alongside it.

Also in evidence is Minnelli's graceful visual style. Minnelli, with his painter's eye, delicately frames his subjects with doorways and overhanging branches. You can also see his developing talent for movement flowing in and out of the frame, particularly in the "Li'l Black Sheep" number in the church. Perhaps the most typical "Minnelli" moment is in the large group shot that he puts together for the title song, the camera pulling out to reveal the whole crowd as the singing reaches a crescendo. For all its beauty though, it does seem to be a rather strained effort, and in his later pictures he would stage sequences that were far more complex and yet looked far more effortless.

A quick word about the actors. While most of the cast were hired more for their ability to sing or dance than anything else, those of them taken on purely as actors are nevertheless a joy to watch. Rex Ingram gets to do what he does best in an extravagant performance as "Lucifer Jr.", and is almost as scene-stealing as he was as the genie in Thief of Bagdad. And Butterfly McQueen's role may be small, but at least she really gets to act here, rather than appearing as a comic relief funny voice.

The songs too are wonderful. The Arlen/Harburg numbers which were written especially for the film version are not as good as anything they did for Wizard of Oz, but then what is? The real highlights though are the original Vernon Duke/John La Touche songs, especially the sublime "Taking a Chance on Love", and it's a shame these two barely made a splash in musicals.

In spite of all this, Cabin in the Sky is still best enjoyed as a series of performances. It is wonderful to watch, not least because it is a showcase for the talents of a whole group of entertainers who made far too few screen appearances, but it doesn't stand up as a musical in its own right.
11 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Absolutely delightful
dancopp19 January 2006
Take the film only for what it is, a spoof, farce or light comedy. Serving that purpose, the cast is delightful with required over-the-top performances by one and all. Ethel Waters is a dream throughout; I only wish Minelli had let her sing "Takin' a Chance on Love" without the unwelcome distraction of the tap dance sequence. Besides Waters, Lucifer's team steals the show, and of course today one wishes that Louis Armstrong could have been given a chance to demonstrate his unique vocal style. But this is nitpicking. The film is an absolutely delightful period piece with a superb cast and memorable vocals. I try to watch it at least once a year and may purchase the DVD to share with friends. (I've already purchased two of Ethel Waters' CDs.)
29 out of 34 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Thank the heavens for this gem of a movie!
funkyfry4 October 2002
Fabulous first film from director Vincente Minnelli (who went on to become one of America's best directors, and had previously produced stage revues including star Waters) with an all black cast headed by the magnificent Ethel Waters. She sings classics from the musical and interpolated songs -- fortunately MGM had a good songsmith on hand in Harold Arlen, who added tunes which were, for once, the equal of the show's originals. Lena Horne also makes a sensational screen debut as "sweet" Georgia Brown. Loose comedy plot about Rochester saving his soul only holds the songs together, but the whole thing is done in a spirit of fun and shows off the great cast in full flavor. An experimental movie that passes its mark with an A+! May offend some modern tastes, but those who are offended should consider questioning their hangups and just kick their feet up and have a good time with it! Ellington and crew appear in a wonderfully photographed "shack dance".
26 out of 31 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Why they all got something from Ethel
jahlaune13 May 2005
Ethel Waters, you hear her singing style in almost all early singers from the late 20's and 30's. Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday. She had the clearest voice and such enunciation. She was a miserable woman tho and thats why you never hear other singers give her praise. In this film her singing is as tear jerking today as it was on those old 78's. She sings and you understand every word and in this movie you even can see her do a little shimmy for which she was renowned for early in her career. A great cast. Lena is superb as always and Bubbles from the vaudevillian team "buck and bubbles" along with earl snake hip tucker. These are Harlem legends that ruled 133rd street (the real swing street) in their day. My mother never tires of this movie as she was a devout Ethel fan all her life (she was born in 1923) so she grew up listening to this legend. Get this bit of American history
19 out of 22 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Ethel Waters in Superb Form
bowiebks25 December 2003
This wonderful musical has a LOT going for it: a great cast of noted black actors from stage and screen, songs by Vernon Duke and Harold Arlen, the directorial debut of Vincent Minnelli, etc. But above all, you have a chance to see and hear the matchless singer/actress Ethel Waters in top form, and perhaps begin to understand why many consider her the greatest and most influential jazz/pop vocalist of all time...yes, every great singer who came later, including Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. had a style which came out of Ethel Waters...and that goes as well for her beautiful co-star in this film, Lena Horne. A must for fans of musicals, jazz, and great music!
17 out of 20 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
I don't understand the racism charges.
storyguy29 August 2006
I just watched this on DVD and found myself more amused than anything by the disclaimer at the front that warns viewers that it was made in racist times and should be regarded as a historical artifact. Are they kidding? Even by the standards of today, the movie is extremely sympathetic and affectionate toward its subjects. Compare this with the Chris Rock movie "Head of State" and then try to judge how much genuine progress has been made since 1943. Many films from the first half of the 20th century were vastly more racist in tone and attitude than this one. "Birth of a Nation" this ain't. So the people in the movie gamble and fight and screw around? Who doesn't? I watched "Dead End" last week, and the thuggish white kids in that were portrayed in a much less appealing manner than the cast here.

Some gripe that the script is a little rudimentary and the acting uneven and un-nuanced. It's a little heavy on sentimentality and slow in spots. But it's a musical. You could say the same of any of the Andy Hardy movies or even many Astaire and Rogers pictures.

On the plus side, the cast is utterly stupendous. It's only a shame that Minelli couldn't shoehorn in a few more spotlight moments for all the talent that was on hand. Unlike one of the other commenters, I very much enjoyed the performances of Waters and Anderson, neither of whom I was especially familiar with previously. Bubbles of "Buck and Bubbles" was riveting for his few minutes on screen. Horne is cute as hell. Would have loved to see more of Ellington and Armstrong.

I did get the impression that Waters was holding back at times for the sake of a screen performance. She begins to let loose vocally during the dance scene in the kitchen, and Anderson humorously reins her in, seemingly making a joke of the fact that they've been told to make their performances a bit more staid for the benefit of conservative audiences in the hinterlands.

Worth seeing as just plain old entertainment, never mind the "historical interest." If you can't see its good points, it may have more to do with being unfamiliar with the idioms and conventions of the era than with any major intrinsic deficits in what's on offer.
23 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Was quite risky
Kathryn-ashe18 April 2018
My grandfather, Arthur Freed, (and Louis B Mayor) took great financial risks bringing the Broadway play to the big screen. At the time this movie was made, 'black' films were made by black producers, with black directors, and only appeared in black only cinemas. This was the very first movie of its kind to be made for white audiences.

My grandfather brought many talented people to Hollywood including Minnelli and Gene Kelly.

For me the greatest joy is seeing such wonderful performers.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
This may shock some, but it's a really good film.
MartinHafer5 February 2010
This is the sort of film that you'd certainly NOT see being made today and I am sure that "Cabin in the Sky" might make a few out there cringe--with its rather stereotypical characters--including several quite shiftless folks. However, if you can hold on to the politically correct voice welling up inside and just accept the film for what it is, then it's well worth seeing.

This is a highly unusual film for its time. Despite the leading character being a dice-shooting no account, the fact that White Hollywood would produce a film with an all-Black cast is amazing--even if the characters are all either non-threatening "good Negroes" and the rest are "shiftless"--a rather two-dimensional view (at best). Still, if this film hadn't been made, performances by such greats as Ethel Waters, Lena Horne and Louis Armstrong never would have been seen and appreciated by a wider audience. Sadly, when you watch and see Kenneth Spencer in the film, you think of what a loss it was that Hollywood never gave him much of a chance and that he died so young--he had an absolutely beautiful voice.

The film's plot is highly unusual. It's a religious allegory about the soul of one particular shiftless fool (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson). Anderson is given one last chance by God and the angels try to steer him towards good while the devils try to lead him down the path of destruction. And even more unusual is that the film is a singing and dancing musical. Some of the more hilarious performances are by Lucifer, Jr.'s imps. Sure, they are walking stereotypes, but seeing Louis Armstrong, Mantan Moreland and Willie Best acting is very entertaining--the dialog is very funny and original.

Overall, the film is very entertaining and a wonderful showcase for some of the best Black entertainers of the day. Well made and certainly not a movie you'll soon forget.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
"Who gave you orders to incinerate this man?"
classicsoncall21 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Just a delightful and still fresh film after sixty plus years, with an all black cast that does a great job with the material. I remember the principal players from TV variety shows of the later 1950's, and who can forget Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson from the Jack Benny Program? I'd only seen Anderson in minor movie roles before (1938's "You Can't Take It With You" and 1939's "You Can't Get Away With Murder"), so to see him in the lead here with Ethel Waters was a nice treat. It was also cool to see him display an all around talent with his singing and dancing, something you rarely got during his association with Benny. Still, the scene where he and Waters sang the title song left me wondering whether he might have been dubbed, as it didn't feature his unique gravelly voice, although his rendition of 'Consequences' later in the story and the duet with Lena Horne surely did.

And Lena Horne - modern day viewers might compare her to Halle Berry in the looks department, but if truth be told, Ms. Horne had it all over Berry in terms of talent. I did more than one double take as well when her character Georgia Brown appeared almost topless from the back and with midriff exposed upon securing that sexy halter top. Then when she got a leg up on Little Joe (Anderson), I had to wonder how he contained himself.

As a musical, the picture really got into high gear during the second half, with virtually number after number showcasing a variety of talent, not the least of which was the legendary Ethel Waters. As the 'terrific prayin' wife of Little Joe, Ms. Waters was a stand-out in every one of her scenes. Throw Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong into the mix, and you have a veritable lock on virtually all the black talent in Hollywood at the time.

As for the comedic interludes, it was great to see some of my all time favorite black actors of the era as part of the Lucifer Jr. bunch - Mantan Morelan and Wille Best, a duo that appeared somewhat regularly in the Monogram run of Charlie Chan films during the late Forties. As Lucifer Jr., Rex Ingram had one of the picture's most telling lines when he remarked that he was stuck with a bunch of 'B' idea men because all of his 'A' men were over in Europe. Released in 1943 during the height of World War II, that reference presumably related to Satan's cultivation of future citizens of Hell, namely Hitler and Mussollini. Considering that type of company, there was just no way that Little Joe Jackson would ever fall victim to any trap set for him by the devil's minions.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Witty, well-acted, years ahead of its time
bregund26 December 2003
This film crackles with energy from start to finish. Every moment of this film contains singing, dancing, or drama. There is so much going on in this film, and so often, that it is impossible to look away from it; its simple and timeless lessons about love, morality, misunderstandings, and forgiveness play out like little vignettes. Minnelli keeps the action moving so quickly that you can't even catch your breath. I doubt that the endearing sincerity of this film, so obvious in scenes such as when Little Joe comes home to greet Petunia, could be as genuine in today's jaded, cynical audiences. This is a wonderful, spirited film packed with talented actors. It's a shame that certain people have to point out that it's an "all-black" cast; why make skin color an issue?
15 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Oh, Little Joe
millerbn23 January 2007
Brilliant. Simply Brilliant. This movie appealed to me the first time I watched it. The acting is consistently good, the music is enduring, and the story is unforgettable. Little Joe is not a bad man, but he likes to make life interesting for himself. Married to a good-hearted woman and being fit as a fox, Little Joe has a pretty good life, but it takes him awhile to realize just how good he's got it, or had it as the case may be. When a lottery ticket promises to bring Little Joe everything he has ever wanted, Little Joe must decide between the straight and narrow and the prurient desires of dice, jazz, and the seductive sweet Georgia Brown. Heaven and Hell battle over Little's Joe's soul, but Little Joe must decide for himself before time runs out.
10 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
6/10
Heaven and Heck in a Nice Little Musical
gavin694215 April 2013
A compulsive gambler (Eddie Anderson) dies during a shooting, but he will receive a second chance to reform himself and to make up with his worried wife (Ethel Waters).

What I find odd about this is that MGM's DVD has a warning before it starts that what you see might be considered racist today. This might be the case. However, having seen countless films from the 1930s and 1940s with black actors, I can confidently say this is far from the worst depiction you will see. In fact, the film has an all-black cast, which has to be something of a milestone in itself regardless of how it is interpreted.

There is nothing too shocking in the picture as far as the plot is concerned. You can reasonably predict where it will go. But there is the now timeless theme of a good angel and a bad angel fighting over a man's soul... and their battles might be of interest. I liked it.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Wonderful celebration of talent
jem13222 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Genius director Vincente Minnelli's debut remains a wonderful celebration of the talent of his all-black cast. It's also interesting showcase of the technique he would fully use later in his career in integrating musical numbers with plot seemingly effortlessly. While I do think the plot, the fight for the soul of Little Joe by the Devil and God, is a little thin and takes a while to heat up, there is plenty to enjoy in this film. Ethel Waters is quite astonishing as Joe's good wife, Petunia- what a performer! And Lena Horne sizzles (how often in the 40's did we get to see the back of a woman's bra? OK, it's hardly a big deal now, but I can't recall seeing anything like it in a 40's movie) as bad girl Georgia who could lead Joe into sin. Curious to see the DVD comes with a disclaimer that apologies for the racist attitudes prevalent in the time, and apparently evident in the film. Well, I do not question the prevailing attitudes of the age, but where are they present in this movie? I actually saw this film as a great celebration of African-American talent, not as a way of demeaning them or anything. Racist would be replacing the talented cast with white performers...and they didn't. I thought every cast member was portrayed with intelligence, even if the plot was simplistic.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Warm, Diverting Musical.
rmax30482316 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Little Joe (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson) is a warehouseman in a small African-American town, married to Petunia (Ethel Waters), who falls ill and dreams the Lord and the Devil are testing him by allowing him to win the Irish Sweepstakes and sending him a tempting visitor in the form and person (what form, what person!) of Sweet Georgia Brown (Lena Horne). He more or less proves himself, pulls through, and he and Petunia carry on with their poor but happy lives.

It's directed by Vincente Minelli and produced by Arthur Fried, without a white person in the cast. Some of the songs have become familiar standards -- "Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe," "Shine," "Takin' a Chance on Love," and snatch of Duke Ellington's orchestra playing "Things Ain't What They Used to Be." The plot and dialog are folksy, unsophisticated, and without pretense. Eddie Anderson and his gravelly voice are amusing in themselves. Ethel Waters has a brilliant smile that changes her features into something benign, although she was apparently not easy to get along with. She disliked Lena Horne intensely here, and later developed a fully blown hatred between herself and director John Ford in "Pinky." Lena Horne is exquisitely feminine, singing, "There's honey in the honeycomb. There's jelly in the jelly roll," as she caresses her bare arms and shoulders.

I suppose it's possible to read racism into a film like this but it got past me entirely. The actors and musicians were probably overjoyed at the chance to appear in a major film. (There was a kind of parallel cinematic universe of all-black films at the time, but they rarely had the budget or skill of mainstream movies.) Further, it's difficult to imagine a cast of any color giving better musical performances. Louis Armstrong has a few minutes on screen as a devil's assistant and is given a chance to toot out one or two choice phrases. And Ellington's orchestra was one of the best in the business.

It's all very rural and cornball, of course, just as "Young Mister Lincoln" is, and "State Fair," in which a love song is sung to a hog.

Relax and spend an enjoyable hour and a half with the simple, but not simple-minded, folk of this neighborhood. It's a pleasant diversion.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Excellent transition from Broadway to film
Ripshin15 January 2007
Yes, "Cabin" has the feel of its Broadway roots, but it is not bogged down by stagey set-ups. The studio filming is appropriately surrealistic, and Minnelli's direction is superb. And, of course, the cast is spectacular.

In regards to that horrible DVD commentary mentioned by another poster.....having attended USC's Critical Film Studies department twenty years ago, I cannot say I'm surprised. It was the pretentiousness and delusional rantings of several professors that led me to abandon a Masters degree from that program. Ignore the "PC" BS gibberish, and enjoy this wonderful musical comedy.

It would be great if people would stop commenting on Waters personality as if they actually knew the woman. These clueless poster comments about her "difficult" and "unkind" character are without explanation or perspective.
7 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
A Tale of the Power of Love and Faith
chemiche313 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This is a timeless tale of 'Good vs. Evil' and the power of love. The film was made in 1943, and has an all black cast. It centers on the lives of little Joe Jackson (Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson) and his wife, Petunia (Ethel Waters). They are poor and live somewhere in America. A reflection of the times, their world and heaven is all black.

Little Joe doesn't deserve to have a loving devoted wife like Petunia. She's God fearing and wants him to repent and stop his gambling habits, besides that its no secret he's had an affair with town beauty, Georgia Brown (Lena Horne).

One day Petunia convinces Little Joe to go to Church. While in Church his gambling buddies Lucius (Rex Ingram), and Jim Henry (Ernest Whitman), get him to sneak out and play a game of dice with Domino Johnson (John William Sublett). Little Joe is seriously wounded when Domino attacks him for cheating.

Little Joe is taken home in a coma and even the doctor is unsure if he'll pull through. Petunia prays for Little Joe's salvation. It's during this time that the Lord's Army, led by The General (Kenneth Spencer) and Devil's from Hell led by the Devil's son Lucius Jr. fight for Little Joe's soul. Because of Petunia's 'powerful prayers' he's given another chance by God, six more months to live. There's a catch, during that time he must be good in order to get into heaven otherwise he's anxiously awaited in Hell.

When Little Joe awakes he has no memory of what happened. His wife Petunia takes care of him faithfully. Their love is highlighted by musical numbers like 'Cabin in the Sky' and 'Happiness is a Thing called Joe.'

Once Joe's able to go back to work, Georgia Brown starts having designs on him again. The Devils plot to let Little Joe win the lottery is hatched. At first it looks like its going fail. Little Joe can't read the telegram informing him about his windfall and throws it away. But Lucifer Jr. blows it in the path of sexy Georgia Brown who promptly delivers it to Little Joe at his home. Petunia's not home and Little Joe is relaxing in a hammock. Georgia Brown tries hard to tempt Little Joe to make love and a kiss is interupted when Joe's conscious catches up with him thanks to the prodding of The General who's watching over him for his six month reprieve. It's then that Georgia Brown reads the telegram and tells him that he's won the lottery. Little Joe is happy and tells Georgia Brown that he's going to buy her things like a fur coat as thanks. That's when Petunia comes back and overhears. Petunia is so enraged at Georgia Brown's presence that she kicks them both out. She is tearful and heartbroken that the man she loves has been unfaithful to her.

Cut to six month's from the day of Little Joe's injury. The great band Leader Duke Ellington and his band are playing at Jim Henry's Club thanks to Litte Joe's bankroll. Little Joe shows up in his chauffeur driven car with Georgia Brown. He's in a tuxedo complete with top hat, tails and a fancy cane. Georgia Brown is in a fancy dress that one patron says 'will still be in style one hundred years from now'. Showing her morals she exposed her fancy and expensive underwear for all to see.

Domino Johnson shows up at the Club to celebrate his release from jail

for injuring Little Joe. In a complete change of character Petunia shows up at the Club all dolled up in fancy clothes. Petunia makes it clear to Little Joe that he's going to pay for them. Little Joe is so fascinated at Petunia's beauty, saying ' he didn't know'. Petunia also tells him that he's going to hear from her lawyer to get her share of the money. Petunia even drinks liquor ordering a 'double King Kong'.

There's a showdown between Georgia Brown and Petunia for Little Joe's affection. Georgia Brown tells Little Joe to watch what he says to his wife. Petunia fires back saying that "She is still his wife and has the inside track!" The showdown gets even more interesting when Petunia thanks Domino for almost killing her husband and then dances him. She dances and kicks her leg up high showing that big women can be sexy too. Petunia's conscious and God fearing nature catches up to her when Domino starts making advances on her caressing and hugging her. Jealousy and the urge to protect Petunia overtake Little Joe and he fights once again with Domino.

Petunia calls for the Lord's intervention who sends a tornado emptying and destroying the Club, but in the process both Petunia and Little Joe are fatally wounded. At the gates of Heaven , The General tells them that only Petunia can go to heaven, but Petunia once again pleads for Joe to go as well. She points out that it was her behavior that caused the disaster. Petunia is forgiven by Little Joe is not.

It looks like he won't be entering heaven until we hear that Georgia Brown has repented and gave everything she owned including most of Little Joe's money to the church. In the end they both are allowed into heaven. Its during the climb of the stairway to heaven that Little Joe awakes out of his coma. Turns out the past six months have all be a horrible dream.

Little Joe swears off gambling forever and asks for his dice and lottery ticket to be destroyed. Viewers are left feeling that Petunia and Little Joe lived happily ever after.

The film was directed by legendary Director Vincent Minnelli. It's also a rare chance to see the talents of black entertainers of the time. One can only imagine the competition for roles in this film. It's too bad that Hollywood didn't make more black movies, in its early years. It was a time when the only roles for Blacks in Hollywood were idiots, maids and butlers and hired hands.

Overall, on talent, Cabin in the Sky makes us long for more. On story, the film is one with a message that transcends time and race.
11 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
"Give a man some money, watch him act funny."
utgard1429 June 2014
Fun, lively musical about an angel and a devil fighting for the soul of shiftless gambler Little Joe Jackson (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson). Historically important for being the first mainstream Hollywood film with an all-black cast and for being the directorial debut of Vincente Minnelli. The cast is wonderful and the musical numbers are amazing. Rochester, Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Rex Ingram, and Kenneth Spencer are all excellent, with many more likable actors in supporting roles.

You're going to hear certain types bashing the movie and, if they do praise it, they do so with backhanded compliments. Avoid the politically correct windbags and see it for yourself. I think you'll find that it's a first-rate musical with lots of heart, warmth, and vigor. Everyone involved with the making of it should be proud. If you get a chance, check out That's Entertainment! III, which features Lena Horne's sexy bubble bath performance of "Ain't It the Truth," which was cut from the original film.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Taking a Chance On Love
theowinthrop22 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Let's call it a deserved "10" but with a sense of trouble for one's conscience.

In 1943 it was nearly impossible to consider any film with a predominantly African-American cast as serious by most Americans of Caucasian or non-African-American backgrounds. Typical fare from Hollywood was a series of stereotypes, usually for comic purposes. However there had been a few films that (even with the stereotypes) suggested more was there. King Vidor's HALLELUJAH in 1929 dealt with African-American revivalism. Two Broadway hits, O'Neill's THE EMPEROR JONES (with star Paul Robeson recreating the role of Brutus Jones) and THE GREEN PASTURES had been done with mostly African-American casts (Dudley Digges did play a critically important role in THE EMPEROR JONES, but he was an exception). The 1929 and 1936 versions of SHOW BOAT did deal with the "Jim Crow" south, and the issue of racially mixed marriages. The film of Fanny Hurst's novel IMITATION OF LIFE (1933) dealt with a young woman trying to pass for white and breaking her mother's heart as a result. GONE WITH THE WIND passed on the myths of how happy the slaves were in the South, but Hattie McDaniel's performance of "Mammy" was vivid and strong, and won the first Oscar for an African-American performer. Finally, in 1942, John Huston's film, IN THIS OUR LIFE, dared to suggest that a young African-American man could try to study law to enter the legal profession.

When Vincent Minelli was assigned to do the MGM musical version of CABIN IN THE SKY, most insiders thought that it would be a flop. Minelli had never directed a film before, and was an unknown quantity in Hollywood's talent market. Actually he was a good choice - he was a veteran of Broadway musical productions, and was just the right person to work on a film based on a Broadway musical. It was his first film, and proved to be a great success.

It think it is due in part to his determination to show what he could bring out of the musical, and also the equal determination of the cast, led by Ethel Waters (who played the lead "Petunia" on Broadway), Eddie Anderson ("Joe"), Lena Horne (as temptress "Georgia Brown"), John Bubbles ("Domino Johnson"), Kenneth Spencer ("The General/ Rev. Greene"), and Rex Ingram ("Lucifer Jr."). Other familiar faces crop up like Willie Best, Mantan Morland, Oscar Polk, Butterfly McQueen, Louis Armstrong (oddly wasted in a mostly comic speaking role), and Duke Ellington and his orchestra. It's hard to imagine this but this film effort had the cream of Hollywood's available African-American performers in it. And they wanted to show what they could do.

The story is about the devotion of Petunia to her husband Little Joe, who is weak and constantly gambling. But he hopes to win a fortune to give Petunia the things she always wanted. Unfortunately he is also infatuated with Georgia, a sexy singer at the gambling house/night club he heads for. One night (while supposedly seeking forgiveness for his sins at church) Joe is lured to the nightclub into a dice game, and is shot by Domino. He is treated at home and the film goes from this point to it's conclusion with a battle between God's messenger, "the General" (always wearing white uniforms), and "Lucifer Jr." and his minions. Due to a technicality Joe is not to die, but is given six months more to show his wife's devotion is strong enough to put him permanently on the good and narrow path. Lucifer Jr. and his associates (including Morland, Armstrong, and Best) are determined to show Joe cannot change.

The cast shows what they could do. Waters in particular has two songs that became standards: "Happiness is a Guy named Joe", by Harold Arlin and Y.I.P. Harburg, and "Taking a Chance On Love" by Vernon Duke from the original score. But Horne is allowed to sing as well (though one number was cut here but transposed elsewhere). Bubbles does his great dance and song act in the latter part of the film, in the number "Shine". Even Anderson (best recalled for being Jack Benny's foil as "Rochester") demonstrates singing in a duet with Horne, and dance in a number with Waters.

I suppose my favorite though is Ingram. He's now the forgotten man in African-American film history, because he never had the degree of public attention that Paul Robeson received. But he appeared in the lead as "De Lawd" in the movie version of THE GREEN PASTURES, as "Lucifer Jr." here, as the genie in the Alexander Korda epic THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (1941), and graced other films as well (as the gentle valet to Ronald Colman in THE TALK OF THE TOWN, where he starts crying at his boss's insistence at shaving off his distinguished goatee). Ingram, I feel, could play any kind of part. Given the paucity of good lead parts in his day, that he got three of them shows Hollywood and British producers thought well of him. Here he does not sing (I suspect he did not have the voice) but he is enjoying his wickedness throughout. He also has one of the best lines in the film - complaining of the lack of good ideas (in getting Joe's soul): he says that it's because the best idea men in Hell are currently in Europe (this being the fourth year of World War II).

The film is actually quite entertaining to this day - although the stereotypes of crap shooting African-Americans is unsettling. But think of this point: this is the first film I know of from Hollywood where a black professional is shown who is not a minister! When Eddie Anderson is treated for his gunshot wound, the physician is black, and is not a stereotype.
6 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Happiness is just a thing called Ethel
marcslope18 January 2006
Despite some formidable competition, this is Ms. Waters' film from start to finish. She had played Petunia on Broadway, opposite Dooley Wilson, and while the material was reworked (clumsily) for the screen, her freshness, seeming spontaneity, and miraculous way with a song dominate. She even gets to jitterbug a little. By all accounts, Ethel was not a nice woman -- insecure, demanding, downright mean to her co-stars -- but she radiates warmth and quiet religious fervor as Petunia. Some good stage songs are missing, but the new ones, by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, are their equal. ("Life's Full O' Consequences" has a particularly choice Harburg couplet: "We could be messin' 'round/ But you keeps digressin' 'round!") There's loads of talent in every frame, from a young and delectable Lena Horne to Duke Ellington's orchestra to Louis Armstrong (given practically nothing to do) to John W. Bubbles, dazzling on the dance floor. The mechanics of the self-conscious "folk tale" plot are unwieldy, and Joseph Schrank's screenplay takes a good half-hour to get going, but it's for the most part tastefully directed by Minnelli (notice how subtle the staging and camera-work are on the title number, for instance), and good to look at. But for all the first-rate singing, dancing, and acting from everyone, all Ethel has to do is wave a hankie and hum a few bars of "Taking a Chance on Love" to walk off with the picture.
6 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Nice Gem with Great Performances
Michael_Elliott12 June 2010
Cabin in the Sky (1943)

*** (out of 4)

Landmark MGM Musical has sinner 'Little Joe' Jackson (Eddie 'Rochester Anderson) getting killed inside a gambling house but his wife Petunia (Ethel Waters) says a prayer, which causes a fuss in Heaven. Lucifer, Jr. (Rex Ingram) wants to take Jackson to Hell but the good guys are able to make a deal where he gets six more months on Earth to prove himself good. Jackson starts off well but soon Lucifer puts Georgia Brown (Lena Horne) on the case. This all-black cast Musical has one of the better reputations out there for a race picture and it's certainly one of the best. There's no question that MGM took a fairly simple story and filled it with some great performances, nice songs, wonderful direction and in the end we're left with a pretty important picture. Considering one scene in this movie cost more than ten other race movies of this era, it's refreshing to see what a black cast could do when given the chance. Considering how well this film turned out, it's a shame more movies like this didn't follow but what we have here is still quite special. For me the highlights of this film are the performances with the three leads fitting into their roles so well that you really forget that you're watching a movie. The spiritual and fiery nature of Waters makes for a brilliant performance as she really digs into this role and makes it her own. She's funny, sweet and very touching in her scenes of prayer and one can't help but feel as if she really is the perfect wife the screenplay makes her out to be. Anderson and that wonderful voice is perfect for that not-so-bright character who tries well but often finds himself in even more trouble. Ingram is a lot of fun as Lucifer, Jr. and Kenneth Spencer and his wonderful voice is a pleasure as well. We even get Louis Armstong, Willie Best, Mantan Moreland and Leon James Poke doing fine work. Just look at the type of performances Moreland and Best get to give here in comparison to the typical roles and performance they had to give in other Hollywood productions. With all of that said, it's Horne who steals the show as the devil-ish Peach. I know a scene involving Horne in a bath (later to appear in the short STUDIO VISIT) was cut but I was still surprised to see how sexual the production code allowed here. From her taking her shirt off to her sexual walks to her shirt being tied up. The sexual fire Horne brings to the role makes her beauty really jump off the screen but we also get that great voice. The story itself isn't the strongest but I think it does the job as we care for Anderson enough to the point that we want to see him stay out of trouble and make it to Heaven. The songs are all pretty good, the direction top-notch and in the end we're given a rare chance to see what black actors could do when given a shot. It's a shame we didn't get more productions like this one.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
A Corrected View of Blacks in 1943 with "Cabin in the Sky"
rosebud7727 January 2007
"Cabin in the Sky" was a great film and a milestone in the treatment of African Americans. Before this film , there was very little positive treatment of Black America. Sexuality in the African American society was rarely treated in American films after 1915 specifically in D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation." In this film , the message transferred to an audiences was that many black men were lusting after young white women. This false notion led to the group hero in the film-the KKK. Their main mission , according to the film, was to protect and save white women from the sexual obsession of blacks."Cabin in the Sky" is a religious but also a very sexy film.Men and women , in this case all black , have driving , healthy, not always moral sexual desires. The characters are not confined to kitchens,train stations, as maids and as butlers or shoeshiners. These sexual desires are often in conflict with traditional morality as seen in "Cabin." But this struggle is also a human struggle in all races . The film communicates this equality with all human nature with song , with dance , with dialog , with costuming.So ,despite the many stereotypes in the film,the equality of sexual desire is a milestone in "Cabin in the Sky." Griffith's view stands corrected. Amen!
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
The Power of Prayer, Faith and Love can Change Your whole Life if you let it
Tweety-1224 October 1998
I Loved this movie from the first time I saw it, can't get enough of it.

Every time I see this movie I yell out to Little Joe change Little Joe change, don't let the devil get you.

I've seen this movie 63 times and still get excited over the change in Little Joe, and although I know what is going to happen, it's as though I'm watching it for the first time.
6 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews


Recently Viewed