Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ethel Waters, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Rex Ingram, Kenneth Spencer
Written by: Joseph Schrank, based on a play by Lynn Root
Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 98
Date: 03/27/1943

Cabin in the Sky (1943)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Black History

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In Vincente Minnelli's enjoyable directorial debut, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson -- best known as Jack Benny's sidekick -- stars in perhaps his only leading role as "Little Joe," a humble married man with a predilection for gambling and fast women, such as torch singer Georgia Brown (Lena Horne).

Joe's darling wife Petunia (Ethel Waters) wants to get him "churched up" and save his soul. When Joe "dies" in a gunfight, he is given six extra months of life to straighten out.

Cabin in the Sky is saddled with the usual stereotypes, but Minnelli (who went on to make classic musicals like Meet Me in St. Louis, An American in Paris and The Band Wagon) brings an unquenchable energy to the film. The three lead performances, especially Waters, who sings with her huge heart on her sleeve, very nearly pop from the screen.

If this weren't enough, Duke Ellington and His Orchestra play in one scene, and Louis Armstrong has a supporting role as "The Trumpeter." Butterfly McQueen (Gone with the Wind) and Rex Ingram (The Green Pastures) co-star.

DVD Details: Extras include: a commentary track by Evangela Anderson and Eva Anderson (wife and daughter of Eddie "Rochester" Anderson), Fayard Nicholas, and black cultural scholars Todd Boyd and Drew Casper, with interview excerpts of Lena Horne; a vintage Pete Smith Specialty short "Studio Visit," a Louis Armstrong "Ain't It the Truth" audio-only outtake, optional English, Spanish and French subtitles and a trailer.

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