Our fourth and last movie in the series is Cabin In The Sky from 1943.
Here’s all you need to know: Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Butterfly McQueen, Ruby Dandridge! If you know who these people are you already know you’re coming to see this film, don’t you?
And if you don’t know, well, they were the cream of African-American talent in the 30s and 40s – the funniest, the sexiest, the raunchiest, the most swingin’ black entertainers in American!
Based on the Broadway musical comedy of the same name (which, by the way, is being revived for four nights only at City Center in March), this is the story of Little Joe Jackson who must choose between his solid wife (Ethel Waters) and a gorgeous seductress (Lena Horne). The General of Heaven and Lucifer, Jr. battle for Little Joe’s soul! It’s a silly plot, arguably just an excuse for a great cast to sing their songs, strut their stuff and do their things (but see the link at the end for a different take).
Apparently MGM knew they’d make no money on this all-black film but still made it with their highest production values. Just like they would today, right? Watch for the bubble bath scene with Lena Horne that had to be cut from the original theatrical run because, well, it was just too much for white audiences. This movie is also a rare chance to see the great Ethel Waters at her peak, even if her songs aren’t as explicit as her live shows of that era would have been.
As culture and black consciousness has changed over the past 70 years the film came into criticism for playing to black stereotypes about gambling, religion and simple-mindedness, but today we can laugh with them, not at them, and enjoy it as it was intended. This is a terrific movie – here’s just one of the great dance numbers and it’s not even the best https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c58AAcnaPTo
When I was putting together this little description I ran across the following essay about the film from the “Baltimore Black Woman”. I’ve never heard of her and don’t know anything her but she wrote a great essay. I’m not sure I agree with all of it but it’s among the best criticism of Cabin In The Sky that I’ve read http://baltimoreblackwoman.com/2015/01/11/a-look-back-at-cabin-in-the-sky/