Cabin in the Sky [DVD] [1943]

  • SKU: 14751672
  • Release Date: 01/10/2006
  • Rating: NR
  • 3.7 (3)
Vincente Minnelli's directorial debut, Cabin in the Sky (1943), has arrived on DVD in a beautiful transfer and a handsome, heavily loaded edition from Warner Home Video, which is impressive despite the uneven nature of its special features. The movie looks sensational, with a clean, sharp full-screen (1.33:1) image, filled with rich contrasts, all looking far better than it did in a 2003 theatrical screening in New York, or on the laserdisc release from the early '90s. The sound is quite good as well, with rich tone and full volume. And the movie has been given a very generous 30 chapters covering the whole plot and all of the musical numbers. The commentary track, however, is one of the most uneven and frustrating in the field. Two university scholars, Todd Boyd and Drew Casper, dominate the commentary, the former covering what amount to the sociological aspects of the movie -- and what he calls the racial politics of the movie -- while Casper dwells on Minnelli's approach to directing, and neither one provides remotely a full picture of what viewers should be looking for. Boyd has a condescending view of the film (and neither he nor Casper seems to want to mention the existence of the underlying stage work) that leaves him repeating the same caveat, concerning the racial sensibilities of the early '40s origins of the piece, ad nauseam, and ignoring the distinguished black supporting players -- including Rex Ingram and Kenneth Spencer. Casper, by comparison, is totally over-the-top in much of his praise, while spending much of his time explaining the obvious in terms of what is onscreen, with often awkward enthusiasm, and ignoring such factors as whether a particular musical number might be where it is because it was in the play in that very spot in the narrative; he does get to some substantive matters and insights, but it takes a while and a lot of effort and time to get there. Boyd keeps explaining how the movie contains most of the top black performers of the era, but, except for Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, and a handful of others, hardly ever mentions them by name, much less mentions their significance, except in a negative way, in terms of their perpetuating stereotypes. The remarks by Evangela Anderson and Eva Anderson, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson's widow and daughter, are more interesting, as they at least provide some material that hasn't been shown onscreen (described by Casper) or been condescendingly defined (by Boyd); but their appearances are also too few and far between, as they can only comment on the personal side of Anderson's work and life and their own experience of it, and their personal recollections of the other performers. Their reminiscences of Mantan Moreland and Rex Ingram are fascinating. (It's also a relief to know that this writer wasn't the only person who ever thought there was a close physical resemblance between Anderson and Moreland -- Anderson's own daughter once mistook Moreland for her father.) Fayard Nicholas, of the Nicholas Brothers, adds some good personal and professional reminiscences, but the best part of the commentary consists of the interview excerpts with Lena Horne -- her contribution is priceless as, in her own voice and all of the seriousness and directness that it carries, she describes her early experience of Hollywood. Would that she could have been approached a decade earlier than this, she might have added even more, and more directly, to what we hear on this release. The track is worth hearing, if you can get past the repetitive and superfluous elements in the commentary. The rest of the supplements consist of a "Pete Smith" short, Studio Visit, that includes Horne doing "Ain't It the Truth," an audio-only outtake of Louis Armstrong doing the same song, and the original trailer. The disc opens automatically to a multi-layer menu that's very easy to use.
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Overview

Ratings & Reviews

Overall Customer Rating:
3.7
67% of customers would recommend this product to a friend (2 out of 3)

Special Features

  • Commentary by Evangela Anderson and Eva Anderson (wife and daughter of Eddie "Rochester" Anderson), Fayard Nicholas, Black Cultural Scholars Todd Boyd and Drew Casper, with interview excerpts of Lena Horne
  • Vintage Pete Smith Specialty short "Studio Visit"
  • Audio-only bonus: Louis Armstrong "Ain't It the Truth" outtake
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Closed Captioned

Synopsis

Cabin in the Sky
MGM knew it would take a bath on its all-black musical Cabin in the Sky (few Southern theaters of 1943 would touch the film), but the studio still provided its standard A-plus production values to the film; besides, it served as a training ground for up-and-coming director Vincente Minnelli. Based on the Broadway musical by Lynn Root, John LaTouche, and Vernon Duke, the film tells the story of Joe (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson), a shantytown denizen torn between the affections of faithful wife Petunia (Ethel Waters) and slinky seductress Georgia (Lena Horne). Seriously injured in a barroom brawl, Joe dreams that he is the centerpiece of a celestial power struggle between a heavenly emissary (Kenneth Spencer) and Lucifer Jr. (Rex Ingram, who ironically had played "De Lawd" in The Green Pastures). Joe is given another chance to redeem himself on Earth, lest he fall into the clutches of the Devil's little boy. Louis Armstrong briefly shows up, appropriately cast as "The Trumpeter." Song highlights include "Taking a Chance on Love," "Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe," "Life's Full of Consequences," and the title song. A troubled production thanks to the on-set rivalry between Ethel Waters and Lena Horne, Cabin in the Sky is nonetheless an excellent first feature effort from Vincente Minnelli. Thanks to his careful treatment of the material, the expected patronization of the black characters does not impede latter-day enjoyment of the film as much as it might have. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Ethel Waters
    Ethel Waters - Petunia Jackson
  • Image coming soon
    Eddie "Rochester" Anderson - Little Joe Jackson
  • Lena Horne
    Lena Horne - Georgia Brown
  • Louis Armstrong
    Louis Armstrong - The Trumpeter
  • Rex Ingram
    Rex Ingram - Lucius Lucifer, Jr.

Overall Customer Rating

3.7 out of 53.7
3 Reviews
67%of customers recommend this product.

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