Thursday, January 25, 2018

Cabin in the Sky

This is my entry in the Busby Berkeley Blogathon hosted by Hometowns to Hollywood.

Cabin in the Sky (1943):

Eddie "Rochester" Anderson stars as "Little Joe" Jackson,  a ne'er-do-well who is married to a devout Christian woman, Petunia (Ethel Waters). Petunia has a faith in God and a belief that He can redeem  Joe, but Joe has his own demons to battle.  For one, he is an inveterate gambler.  But he has decided, to appease Petunia, to give up gambling and get right with the Lord.

But his former playmates have other ideas.  They  wheedle him to ditch the church service and go to the local gin joint with them.  Joe ends up in a fight and he is killed by Domino Johnson (John W. Sublett).  As he lays dying on his bed, Petunia pleads with God to give him another chance because of her faith, God sends an angel, called the General (Kenneth Spencer) and his retinue to revive him.  But the Devil has sent his son, Lucifer, Jr. (Rex Ingram) to protect his own interests.

Joe is revived, but neither he nor Petunia know the deal that God and the Devil made.  Joe just has a six month reprieve to change his ways or he will be sent to his eternal home in that other place...  Junior manages to manipulate the outcome by insuring that Joe wins the Irish sweepstakes, but Joe discards the telegram, since he is unable to read it.

Ever the resourceful type, Junior manages to have Joe's gold digger mistress,  Georgia Brown (Lena Horne) pick up the discarded telegram and after reading it delivers it to Joe.

Joe is happy at the news and intends to make Petunia happy with the windfall.  Unfortunately Petunia walks in at the wrong time and sees Joe offering to buy Georgia a few trinkets and thinks he is cheating on her.  She kicks him out and Joe is obviously on his way to losing his second chance.  In the gin joint, Domino shows back in town after an absence.

Meanwhile, Petunia has shown up at the joint, and Domino puts the moves on her.  Joe is jealous and a fight breaks out and Joe is once again killed.  Unfortunately, so is Petunia. And Petunia was only acting like a loose woman to try to get Joe jealous.  So when the judgement comes, the scales tip enormously in her favor and she is off to Heaven.  But Joe has not done enough to redeem himself and is once again cast out.

Petunia pleads with the Lord that she can't go to Heaven without her man, but nothing doing as far as God is concerned.  But then it is revealed that Georgia Brown, remorseful over the situation back on Earth, became a Christian and gave all of her share of Joe's money to the church.  Joe just barely tips the scales and is going to get to go to Heaven with Petunia.

But that's not the end of the movie.  If you have watched enough of these kinds of movies, I won't need to tell you what comes next.

Most of the movie was directed by Vincente Minelli, but Busby Berkeley had a hand in one number.  Sublett as Domino does a song called "Shine".

I put some polish on my style piece
 I made a shoestring into a tie
I cut the corners off the end of my coat
So they wouldn't fly.

I got my shirt from a silver lining
I got my cane from an old oak tree
And that is just the reason
The folks all nicknamed me

Just because my hair is curly
And just because my teeth are pearly
And just because I always wear a smile
And suits to dress up in the latest style.

Gee, I'm glad I'm living
Why I take troubles all with a smile
Just because my color shade's
A wee bit different, baby
That's why they call me "Shine".

The dance number is focused on just one person, that of Domino, unlike many of the great dance sequences that some of the others in this blogathon have chosen, but it doesn't lack for entertainment.  If you watch closely, you will recognize some of the dance moves, I bet.  Yes, its almost a sure bet that Michael Jackson copied some of the dance moves from this movie into his own act.

About the only drawback to this sequence, although the song is surely a toe tapper, is the fact that  the song seems to revel in the fact that the singer approves of the nickname "Shine".  For those of you unfamiliar with older generations, this was also a derogatory name used by whites to call black people in the day.  Admittedly it didn't have the negative cachet that other words had, but it still feels a little disturbing, but maybe that's just me.

A good double feature would be to pair this with The Green Pastures another all black cast feature film that involves a Christian spirituality.

That ends this post.  Drive home safely, folks.



  1. Such a great cast in this film – I love Rex Ingram here, and Ethel Waters, too.

    I had forgotten Busby Berkeley had choreographed that one song. I'll see if I can find that one sequence on YouTube and watch it again.

    1. It is a pretty good sequence. Never heard of the actor who played Domino before, but he is a damn good singer and dancer. Thanks for reading.

  2. Fantastic review of a very entertaining and historic movie... thank God MGM and Minnelli had the foresight to capture these wonderful performers on film in starring roles...their impact might have been lost to us75 years later.
    Need to see this again.
    - Chris

    1. Haven't had much chance to see Rochester outside of his appearances on the Jack Benny show, but he is a fairly good actor. and Waters is one heck of a good singer. thanks for reading.

  3. I haven't seen this film yet, but if it inspired Michael Jackson, I'm on board to watch it! Very nice review.
    Thanks for the kind comment!

  4. Aside from the Berkeley numbers, Cabin in the Sky has one of my all-time favorite casts. The musical numbers are so much fun and everyone is so delightful and talented. Thank you so much for participating in the Busby Berkeley Blogathon!

    1. These all black casts movies from the 40's and 50's are interesting as a look into how Hollywood viewed the black audience. I think an interesting post would be to take one movie each decade in which the cast is predominantly black and compare them. Thanks for reading.

  5. Hello Bloggers!

    I'm writing to you because you participated in the Busby Berkeley Blogathon, and would love to offer you the option of including your article in our Busby Berkeley ebook. As I have done in the past, all proceeds go to the National Film Preservation Foundation. You can view some of our sample ebooks here:

    If you are interested in participating, here is what I need--
    -Your article sent as Microsoft Word doc
    -The article typed up in size 12 Times New Roman, single-spaced
    -Font color must be black
    -No photos

    Please send me your article by February 28th. I'll be in touch with you once everything is ready to go. I can be reached at

    Have a great day!

    1. Sounds too much like work. If you want to take it and use it its fine by me, though.


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