Sunday, February 11, 2024

Tonight's Movie: Cabin in the Sky (1943) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The classic MGM musical CABIN IN THE SKY (1943) has just been released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection.

I have a fond memory of seeing this film as a teen at the Tiffany Theater on Sunset in Los Angeles, but I'm not sure I'd seen it since. What a treat!

CABIN IN THE SKY features an all-black cast with some of the greatest talents from both music and Hollywood. Beyond stars Ethel Waters, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, and Lena Horne, you've got Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, the great Rex Ingram, comedy talents like Mantan Moreland and Willie Best, dancers John W. "Bubbles" Sublett and Bill Bailey, and many more.

The film is a fantasy in which Petunia (Waters) is trying to reform her gambler husband Little Joe (Anderson). Unfortunately Joe is shot at a gambling club, but Petunia's earnest prayers to save Little Joe's life lead to a battle over his soul between The General (Kenneth Spencer) and Lucifer Jr. (Ingram).

It's a frequent refrain from me, but the film was a few minutes long at 98 minutes; otherwise, this film is pure pleasure.

The plot may be a high-stakes battle, but even the villains in this film are congenial. A scene where Lucifer Jr. directs the actions of temptress Georgia Brown (Horne) is delightful. "Rochester" manages to avoid being too annoying even when he's being "bad," and the sweet persistence of Waters' Petunia in trying to save her Joe is touching.

I especially enjoy Spencer, who plays the heavenly emissary in the fantasy sequences and Petunia's pastor in reality. He was a very handsome man with a wonderful voice and presence.

There are many wonderful moments, including Waters singing "Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe" and "Taking a Chance on Love."

My favorite sequence features Duke Ellington music, and dancers walking down the street pair up and then dance their way into where he's playing. It's absolutely thrilling '40s big band music and jive dancing! Happily the Blu-ray includes a song selection menu for easy replays of favorite numbers.

CABIN IN THE SKY was the first feature film directed by the great Vincente Minnelli. Busby Berkeley worked uncredited on the "Shine" sequence. The movie was shot by Sidney Wagner.

The Blu-ray print comes from a 1080p HD master of a 4K scan of the best preservation elements available. I should note here that while the film was shown theatrically in sepia -- I've read of 35mm sepia screenings -- this print is black and white.

The Blu-ray picture and audio are both outstanding, and I highly recommend this disc.

In addition to the previously mentioned song selection menu, the disc includes several extras carried over from the 2006 DVD, including a commentary track by the wife and daughter of Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Fayard Nicholas, Professor Drew Casper, and more; the Pete Smith Specialty short STUDIO VISIT (1946), which includes a Lena Horne number cut from CABIN IN THE SKY; an audio outtake with Louis Armstrong; and the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from Movie Zyng, Amazon, and other online retailers.


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