Cabin in the Sky (film)

Cabin in the Sky is a 1943 American musical film based on the 1940 Broadway musical of the same name. The first feature film directed by Vincente Minnelli,[2] Cabin in the Sky features an all-black cast[2] and stars Ethel Waters, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and Lena Horne. Waters and Rex Ingram reprise their roles from the Broadway production as Petunia and Lucifer Junior, respectively. The film was Horne's first and only leading role in an MGM musical. Louis Armstrong is also featured in the film as one of Lucifer Junior's minions, and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra have a showcase musical number in the film.

Cabin in the Sky
Theatrical release poster
Directed byVincente Minnelli
Busby Berkeley ("Shine" sequence, uncredited)
Written byMarc Connelly (uncredited)
Lynn Root (play)
Joseph Schrank
Based onCabin in the Sky
1940 musical
by Vernon Duke & John La Touche
Produced byArthur Freed
Albert Lewis
StarringEthel Waters
Eddie "Rochester" Anderson
Lena Horne
Rex Ingram
Louis Armstrong
CinematographySidney Wagner
Edited byHarold F. Kress
Music byRoger Edens
Georgie Stoll
George Bassman
Hall Johnson
Distributed byLoew's, Inc.
Release date
  • April 9, 1943 (1943-04-09)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,953,000[1]
L-R: Ethel Waters, Kenneth Spencer, Eddie Anderson, Lena Horne, and Rex Ingram

In 2020, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".



Little Joe is a well meaning but weak man whose attempts at redemption are cut short when he is killed over gambling debts by big shot Domino Johnson. On his deathbed, Little Joe is resurrected by angelic powers and given six months to redeem his soul and become worthy of entering Heaven—otherwise he will be condemned to Hell. Secretly guided by "The General" (the Lord's Angel), Little Joe gives up his shiftless ways and becomes a hardworking, generous, and loving husband to his wife Petunia, whom he had previously neglected. Unfortunately, demon Lucifer Jr. (the son of Satan himself), is determined to drag Little Joe to Hell. Lucifer arranges for Joe to become wealthy by winning a lottery, reintroduces Joe to beautiful gold-digger Georgia Brown, and manipulates marital discord between Joe and Petunia. Little Joe abandons his wife for Georgia, and the two embark on a life of hedonistic pleasure.

As Little Joe and Georgia celebrate at a nightclub one evening, Petunia joins them, determined to win Joe back. Little Joe fights with Domino for Petunia, and Petunia, anguished at this turn of events, prays to God to destroy the nightclub. A tornado appears and leaves the nightclub in ruins, as Joe and Petunia lie dead in the ruins after being shot by Domino. Just as it appears that Joe's soul is lost forever, the angelic General informs him that Georgia Brown was so affected by the tragedy that she has donated all the money that Joe had lavished upon her to the church. On this technicality, Little Joe is allowed to go to Heaven with Petunia.

As the two climb the Celestial Stairs, Joe suddenly wakes in his own bed. Joe had not been killed in the initial gambling-debt fracas, only wounded. All his supposed dealings with angels and demons were only a fever dream. Now genuinely reformed, Little Joe begins a new happy life with his loving Petunia.





According to liner notes in the CD reissue of the film's soundtrack, Freed and Minnelli sought input from black leaders before production began on the film.

The script was submitted before production to the NAACP. In a letter to the Editor, a writer of the film said he received a letter "congratulating [them] on the treatment of this black fable, which avoided cliches and racial stereotypes."[4]

Stock footage of Arnold Gillespie's famous muslin-sock tornado from The Wizard of Oz was reused in this film for the scene where the cyclone destroys the nightclub.[5] Coincidentally, director Vincente Minnelli would marry actress Judy Garland, who played Dorothy Gale in that film, two years after Cabin in the Sky was released.


  1. "Little Black Sheep" – Ethel Waters and Chorus
  2. "Old Ship of Zion" – Chorus
  3. "Happiness is a Thing Called Joe" – Ethel Waters
  4. "Cabin in the Sky" – Ethel Waters & Eddie "Rochester" Anderson
  5. "Taking a Chance on Love" – Ethel Waters
  6. "Life is Full of Consequence" – Lena Horne & Eddie "Rochester" Anderson
  7. "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" – Duke Ellington and his orchestra
  8. "Going Up" – Duke Ellington and his orchestra
  9. "Shine" – "Bubbles" John W. Sublett (video via YouTube)
  10. "Honey in the Honeycomb" – Lena Horne
  11. "Honey in the Honeycomb (Reprise)" – Lena Horne & Ethel Waters

Deleted songs


One musical number, in which Horne sings a reprise of "Ain't It the Truth" while taking a bubble bath, was cut from the film prior to release, though it later appeared in a 1946 Pete Smith short subject entitled Studio Visit.[6] Horne later said in the documentary That's Entertainment! III (1994) in which the excised performance was also featured, it was felt that to show a black woman singing in a bath went beyond the bounds of moral decency in 1943. A second non-bubble bath (and third overall) performance of this song by Louis Armstrong was also cut from the final print, resulting in Armstrong having no solo musical number in the film. Armstrong's recording of "Ain't it the Truth" survives and is included on the later CD release of the film's original soundtrack.[7][8] The song's authors and Lena Horne collaborated on their Broadway musical Jamaica starring Horne, in which they recycled the song as part of the score as a solo for her.

Film promotion


MGM held a trade show of the film on February 9, 1943, in Denver, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Another show was held on February 11 in Portland, Los Angeles and Seattle.[9]

For promotional purposes, records were produced for two musical numbers: "Cabin in the Sky" and "Taking a Chance on Love."[10]

Marian McCullough from Lowe's in Dayton had cooperated with local hotels to place a sign at each registry desk that read: "Ps-s-t! If they don't have a room, come over to Loew's....We have a great big "Cabin in the Sky."[11]

The Orpheum Theater in Springfield, Illinois placed advertisements in the classified section of newspapers that read, "This Cabin for Rent, and with it goes plenty of entertainment for all." The ad came with a small cutout of a cabin.[12]

Jack Matlack's campaign at the Broadway theater in Portland had the theater staff in blackface and gingham-dressed.[13]

Showmen's Trade Review


At a screening of the film, Showmen's Trade Review gathered and listed possible ideas for theaters to promote the film.[14] Newspapers and radios were encouraged to hold contests where viewers were to submit: dreams, recipes that use inexpensive ingredients, the furnishing and construction of their ideal "Cabin in the Sky," and incidences[spelling?] with "luck charms." A "Go to Church Sunday" campaign included offering discounts on tickets for congregations to bring in new worshipers. For the stage, choral groups or amateur night with comedy, singing and dancing night were suggested. For the lobby, a trio of boys singing and dancing where boys could throw large, 12 inch square dice. To play on Eddie Rochester Anderson's difficulty with his necktie in the film, it was suggested to borrow mannequins and hold a tie tying contest where the top ten fastest contestants gain free admission.

While the article did suggest that these activities were held using people of color, it closed out by emphasizing that focus of an all-black cast should not be used as the main selling points as it would sell "through confidence that it will be enthusiastically received by [the] customers."



In the 1940s, movie theaters in many cities, particularly in the southern United States, refused to show films with prominent black performers. On July 29, 1943, in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee, the film was pulled after the first 30 minutes on orders from the local sheriff. A crowd gathered outside the theater and someone threatened to "pull the switch."[15]

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe" sung by Ethel Waters.[16]

According to MGM records the film made $1,719,000 in the US and Canada and $234,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $587,000.[1][17][18]

After years of unavailability, Warner Home Video and Turner Entertainment released Cabin in the Sky on DVD on January 10, 2006.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 81% from 47 reviews and an average rating of 7.2/10. The consensus summarizes: "Cabin in the Sky's racial stereotypes are impossible to ignore – but so are its irresistible musical numbers and brilliantly talented cast."[19]

See also



  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. ^ a b "Watch Netflix's 'Hollywood,' Then Watch These Classic Movies". Film School Rejects. 2020-05-04. Retrieved 2020-06-14.
  3. ^ Duke Ellington, Day by Day and Film by Film. JazzMedia. 1992. ISBN 9788788043341.
  4. ^ The New York Times, What Blacks Thought of 'Cabin in the Sky', February 2nd 1983
  5. ^ "Cabin in the Sky (1943) Tornado Scene". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 11 July 2021.
  6. ^ Clip from "Studio Visit" with Lena Horne singing "Ain't it the Truth" on YouTube
  7. ^ "Ain't it the Truth" sung by Louis Armstrong (audio only)
  8. ^ Cabin in the Sky Original Soundtrack Recording at
  9. ^ Showmen's Trade Review, February 6th 1943, Page 4
  10. ^ Showmen's Trade Review, March 27th 1943, Page 23
  11. ^ Showmen's Trade Review, June 19th 1943, Page 35
  12. ^ Motion Picture Daily, Managers Round Table, July 17th 1943
  13. ^ Motion Picture Herald, July 10th 1943, Page 58
  14. ^ Showmen's Trade Review, February 20th 1943, Page 23
  15. ^ Motion Picture Daily, Vol 53 Issue 21, July 30th 1943, New York
  16. ^ Higham, Charles; Greenberg, Joel (1968). Hollywood in the Forties. London: A. Zwemmer Limited. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-498-06928-4.
  17. ^ Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Robson, 2005 p 321
  18. ^ "Variety (January 1944)". New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company. January 10, 1944 – via Internet Archive.
  19. ^ "Cabin in the Sky". Rotten Tomatoes. 9 April 1943.