Cabin in the Sky

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This article is about the musical film. For the Curtis Fuller album, see Cabin in the Sky (album).
Cabin in the Sky
Cabin in the Sky.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Busby Berkeley ("Shine" sequence, uncredited)
Produced by Arthur Freed
Albert Lewis
Written by Marc Connelly (uncredited)
Lynn Root (play)
Joseph Schrank
Based on Cabin in the Sky (play)
Starring Ethel Waters
Eddie "Rochester" Anderson
Lena Horne
Louis Armstrong
Music by Harold Arlen
Vernon Duke
George Bassman
Roger Edens
Cinematography Sidney Wagner
Edited by Harold F. Kress
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s)
  • April 9, 1943 (1943-04-09)
Running time 98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $679,000[1]
Box office $1,953,000[1]

Cabin in the Sky is a 1940 American musical with music by Vernon Duke, lyrics by John La Touche, and a musical book by Lynn Root. The musical premiered on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre on October 25, 1940. It closed on March 8, 1941 after a total of 156 performances. Directed by Albert Lewis and staged by George Balanchine, the stage production starred Ethel Waters as Petunia Jackson, Dooley Wilson as "Little Joe" Jackson, Katherine Dunham as Georgia Brown, Rex Ingram as Lucifer Junior, and Todd Duncan as The Lawd's General.

A motion picture based on the musical was produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and released in 1943. The film version of Cabin in the Sky also starred Waters as Petunia and Ingram as Lucifer Junior. Eddie "Rochester" Anderson of Jack Benny fame took over the role of Little Joe, Kenneth Lee Spencer portrayed The General, and Lena Horne co-starred as the temptress Georgia Brown in her first and only leading role in an MGM musical. Louis Armstrong was 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.

Plot summary[edit]

Cabin in the Sky tells a version of the Faust legend in which Little Joe, a man killed over gambling debts, 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 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 she prays for 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 was so affected by the tragedy that she has donated all the money that he had given 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. He had not been killed in the initial gambling-debt fracas—he had only received a concussion, and 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.

Cast[edit]

Overview and history[edit]

Produced by Arthur Freed and directed by Vincente Minnelli in his Hollywood debut, Cabin in the Sky in featuring an all-African American cast was an unusual production for its time. In the 1940s, movie theaters in many cities, particularly in the southern United States, refused to show films with prominent black performers, so MGM took a considerable financial risk by approving the film.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Happiness is a Thing Called Joe" sung by Ethel Waters.[2]

Some remember Cabin in the Sky for its intelligent and witty script, which some claimed treated its characters and their race with a dignity rare in American films of the time. Others, like actress Jean Muir, described Cabin in the Sky's racial politics as "an abomination," arguing that moviegoers should write to the studios when they saw "old stereotypes of Negro caricature" like those in the film.[3] 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.

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 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. (She did not state what she felt had changed in those three years to make it acceptable in 1946.) 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.

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

Songs[edit]

Reception[edit]

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][4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ Higham, Charles; Greenberg, Joel (1968). Hollywood in the Forties. London: A. Zwemmer Limited. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-498-06928-4. 
  3. ^ Hughes, Langston (June 10, 1944). "From Here to Yonder". The Chicago Defender. 
  4. ^ Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Robson, 2005 p 321

External links[edit]