CABIN IN THE SKY (1943) B/W 98m dir: Vincente Minnelli
w/Ethel Waters, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Rex Ingram, Kenneth Spencer, John "Bubbles" Sublett, Oscar Polk, Mantan Moreland, Willie Best
From The Movie Guide: "Vincente Minnelli's debut as a Hollywood director was the first all-black musical since GREEN PASTURES in 1936 and a monument to Ethel Waters in all her glory.
"The story focuses on Little Joe (Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson), a gambler who is nearly killed in a bar-room brawl and whose soul then becomes the site of a battle (fought in dream sequences) between God's General (Kenneth Spencer) and Lucifer Jr. (Rex Ingram). This tug-of-war is reflected in another, real-life struggle, for Joe's heart, between his devoted wife (Waters) and the alluring Georgia Brown (Lena Horne).
"Though shot in sepia, CABIN IN THE SKY offers ample proof of Minnelli's visual flair in several scenes, particularly an early sequence of a church service and a nightclub dance routine (to 'Shine') performed by Domino (John 'Bubbles' Sublett). The cast is quite exceptional. Anderson makes an engaging, sympathetic rascal, whose moral dilemma is understandable given the siren call of the ravishing Lena Horne. Ethel Waters steals the show, blazing through the picture with sincerity and compassion and handling her songs with unparalleled assurance --- 'Taking a Chance on Love' and the Oscar-nominated 'Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe' [by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg] are standouts.
"CABIN was far from plain sailing for Minnelli and MGM. The director was supposedly romancing Horne, leading to tensions between her, Minnelli and Waters which came to a head over the 'Honey in the Honeycomb' number. The number was originally slated to be sung by Waters but, during production, plans were changed to accommodate two versions, one to be performed by Waters as a ballad, one as a dance number led by Horne and featuring John 'Bubbles.' Horne, however, broke her ankle during production, and the two numbers had to be reversed, with Horne singing the ballad (a highlight of the film) and Waters displaying surprising talent as a dancer.
"The Duke Ellington Orchestra lends musical pizzazz and Louis Armstrong can be seen as one of Lucifer Jr.'s hilarious henchmen --- his joyous face almost steals every scene he's in. Only three of the songs and three principals --- Minnelli, Waters and Ingram --- came from the original Broadway show."