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, Cabin in the Sky features an all-black cast 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|
|Directed by||Vincente Minnelli|
Busby Berkeley ("Shine" sequence, uncredited)
|Written by||Marc Connelly (uncredited)|
Lynn Root (play)
|Based on||Cabin in the Sky (musical)|
by Vernon Duke & John La Touche
|Produced by||Arthur Freed|
Eddie "Rochester" Anderson
|Edited by||Harold F. Kress|
|Music by||Roger Edens|
|Distributed by||Loew's, Inc.|
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 restored to life 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 cyclone 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.
- Ethel Waters as Petunia Jackson
- Eddie "Rochester" Anderson as Little Joe Jackson
- Lena Horne as Georgia Brown
- Louis Armstrong as The Trumpeter
- Rex Ingram as Lucius / Lucifer Jr.
- Kenneth Spencer as The General / Rev. Green
- "Bubbles" John W. Sublett as Domino Johnson
- Oscar Polk as The Deacon / Fleetfoot
- Mantan Moreland as First Idea Man
- Willie Best as Second Idea Man
- Fletcher Rivers as Third Idea Man (as Moke Fletcher Rivers)
- Leon James Poke as Fourth Idea Man (as Poke Leon James)
- Bill Bailey as Bill
- "Buck" Ford L. Washington as Messenger Boy
- Butterfly McQueen as Lily
- Duke Ellington as Himself (uncredited)
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."
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. 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.
- "Little Black Sheep" - Ethel Waters and Chorus
- "Old Ship of Zion" - Chorus
- "Happiness is a Thing Called Joe" – Ethel Waters
- "Cabin in the Sky" – Ethel Waters & Eddie "Rochester" Anderson
- "Taking a Chance on Love" – Ethel Waters
- "Life is Full of Consequence" - Lena Horne & Eddie "Rochester" Anderson
- "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" - Duke Ellington and his orchestra
- "Going Up" - Duke Ellington and his orchestra
- "Shine" – "Bubbles" John W. Sublett (video via YouTube)
- "Honey in the Honeycomb" – Lena Horne
- "Honey in the Honeycomb (Reprise)" – Lena Horne & Ethel Waters
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. As 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) performance of this song by Louis Armstrong was also cut from the final print, resulting in the famous trumpeter 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. The song's authors and Lena Horne had their revenge several years later when they collaborated on their Broadway musical Jamaica starring Horne, in which they recycled the song as part of the score as a solo for her.
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.
For promotional purposes, records were produced for two musical numbers: "Cabin in the Sky" and "Taking a Chance on Love."
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."
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.
Showmen's Trade ReviewEdit
At a screening of the film, Showmen's Trade Review gathered and listed possible ideas for theaters to promote the film. 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 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."
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."
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- "Watch Netflix's 'Hollywood,' Then Watch These Classic Movies". Film School Rejects. 2020-05-04. Retrieved 2020-06-14.
- The New York Times, What Blacks Thought of 'Cabin in the Sky', February 2nd 1983
- "Cabin in the Sky (1943) Tornado Scene". YouTube. Retrieved 11 July 2021.
- Clip from "Studio Visit" with Lena Horne singing "Ain't it the Truth" on YouTube
- "Ain't it the Truth" sung by Louis Armstrong (audio only)
- Cabin in the Sky Original Soundtrack Recording at AllMusic.com
- Showmen's Trade Review, February 6th 1943, Page 4
- Showmen's Trade Review, March 27th 1943, Page 23
- Showmen's Trade Review, June 19th 1943, Page 35
- Motion Picture Daily, Managers Round Table, July 17th 1943
- Motion Picture Herald, July 10th 1943, Page 58
- Showmen's Trade Review, February 20th 1943, Page 23
- Motion Picture Daily, Vol 53 Issue 21, July 30th 1943, New York
- Higham, Charles; Greenberg, Joel (1968). Hollywood in the Forties. London: A. Zwemmer Limited. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-498-06928-4.
- Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Robson, 2005 p 321
- "Top Grossers of the Season", Variety, 5 January 1944 p 54
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