Cabin in the Sky (1943)

Cabin in the Sky (1943)

“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:

  • African-Americans
  • Femmes Fatales
  • Lena Horne Films
  • Life After Death
  • Marital Problems
  • Musicals
  • 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

Must See?
Yes, once, for its historical significance.


  • Historically Relevant


One thought on “Cabin in the Sky (1943)

  1. Not must-see, but those curious about its historical importance may want to have a look. As per my post (12 / 21 / 14) in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “I’m just about the most miserablest person what ever died.”

    ‘Cabin in the Sky’ (1943): Overall, this is one unfortunate film. Although it’s among the relatively few times that an early Hollywood film is comprised of an all-black cast, it’s considered offensive for its stereotypical representation. But what’s perhaps equally offensive is its woefully naive depiction of Christianity (i.e. earning credit with God, etc.). Those two elements, mixed thoroughly with steamrolling earnestness, make for some slow-moving drudgery indeed. However – near the halfway-mark, things liven up (hallelujah!). We then get a thoroughly charming sequence involving the song ‘Takin’ a Chance on Love’ (beautifully sung and choreographed; I love the moment when Ethel Waters begins to rip loose vocally – but, alas, is then reined in), which leads us to some very snazzy dance action (thank you, Duke Ellington!) at the Paradise Cafe. But all is not forgiven from that point on – since by film’s end (which oddly includes a few elements from ‘The Wizard of Oz’: a tornado; an ‘All-Powerful’ decision; the ultimate realization that the whole thing was just a dream) we’re thrown right back into the ‘points system’ of faith. (Why is it that putting the tenets of heaven into a story like this makes heaven seem an uninviting place? We never seem to have mixed feelings about hell: as witness ‘Damn Yankees’.) ‘Cabin’ features a very talented cast but, with a script that can make our eyes roll ‘in backsliding’, this is almost enough to make you repent for watching.

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