“Sometimes when you fight the devil, you got to jab him with his own pitchfork.”
When a lazy gambling addict named Little Joe (Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson) is nearly killed, his devout wife (Ethel Waters) prays hard enough that a heavenly angel (Kenneth Spencer) heeds her call and agrees to give Little Joe six more months to reform — but Lucifer’s son (Rex Ingram) and his henchmen (Mantan Moreland, Willie Best, and Louis Armstrong) are eager to get Joe down into Hell, and send both money and a seductive gold-digger (Lena Horne) his way.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Femmes Fatales
- Life After Death
- Marital Problems
- Play Adaptations
- Rex Ingram Films
- Vincente Minnelli Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary points out that this “spirited M-G-M musical, with an all-black all-star cast” — “based on a Broadway musical by Lynn Root, John Latouche, and Vernon Duke” — “marked the successful movie debut of stage director Vincente Minnelli.” He notes that the “film pits cornball religion against hell-raising (which appear to be the only two choices in a black man’s life):
… and, though it probably wasn’t intended that way, the hell-raising looks to be more fun.” He advises us to “forget Joseph Schrank’s script and enjoy the precious footage of some of the most famous black performers at their peaks”, including Waters, Anderson, Horne, John ‘Bubbles’ Sublett, and Duke Ellington’s band, as well as Ingram reminding “us of the shrewd, intelligent, boldly laughing genie he played in The Thief of Bagdad.” As one of two all-black musicals produced that year — along with Stormy Weather (1943) — this film remains worth a look for historical purposes alone, but viewers will likely find themselves appreciating the chance to see Waters at her finest; her role here and in The Member of the Wedding (1952) indicate that she should have been given far more opportunities to grace us with her presence on screen.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Ethel Waters as Petunia
- Many fine musical numbers
- Sidney Wagner’s cinematography
Yes, once, for its historical significance.