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Film / Cabin in the Sky

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"There's a little cabin in the sky, Mister/For me and for you."
Cabin in the Sky (1943) is a MGM musical film based on the Broadway show of the same name. The story follows the life of Little Joe (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson), a gambler who’s trying to get right with God especially since his wife, Petunia (Ethel Waters), is so faithful and wants him to be good.

However, temptation comes knocking and Little Joe gets shot. On his deathbed, Petunia prays so well that God is willing to save him from Lucifer Jr. and his devils who have come to reclaim his soul. Little Joe can live again for six months but he must be good or Lucifer Jr. will take him to the place down under. The only issue is that Little Joe won’t remember anything about this deal while he’s back to his human form.

The forces of good and evil fight for his soul, and evil comes in to the cute Georgia Brown (Lena Horne) whose sinful ways excite Little Joe. Petunia, on the other hand, misunderstands a conversation between Georgia and Little Joe, so she gives up on him, but can Little Joe still find the right path?

This was Vincente Minnelli’s directorial debut. Much like Stormy Weather, Cabin in the Sky featured a cast of the best African-American performers of its '40s era.

The film shows the following tropes:

  • All Just a Dream: It turns out that Little Joe's fight to be good was just a dream while he was convalescing after being shot.
  • Bad Girl Song: After showing everyone her lingerie, Georgie sings Honey in the Honeycomb.
    • Hilariously, Petunia does a reprise of it to make Little Joe jealous.
  • Bargain with Heaven: Little Joe’s deal to make good in 6 month’s time or Lucifer Jr. will take his soul for good.
  • The Cameo: Louis Armstrong! Duke Ellington! Rex Ingram!
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Georgia irresistibly seduces Little Joe and he can't help but be distracted.
  • Dress-Coded for Your Convenience: Lucifer’s devils dress in all black while God’s angels are decked out in white.
  • Ending by Ascending: The film ends with Eddie Anderson and Ethyl Waters ascending a Stairway to Heaven.
  • Fixing the Game: Little Joe’s friends, who he would gamble with, used fixed dice on him to rip him off.
  • God Is Good: God answers a lot of Petunia’s prayers, and she has faith that he helps his servants.
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: Little Joe can’t exactly hear God or Lucifer’s devil, but he is influenced by them both.
  • Horns of Villainy: Lucifer Jr. has horns grown into his hair.
  • Monochrome Casting: A rare example where all the cast members are black.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The sexy Georgia Brown.
  • The Musical: Classic numbers are mostly sung by Ethel Waters.
  • Third-Act Misunderstanding: Little Joe wins the Irish sweepstakes lottery and admits to Georgia that he’s going to buy Petunia everything, and he’s going to buy Georgia jewels for finding the ticket. Unfortunately, Petunia only hears the last part of his declaration.
  • Sex Is Evil: Georgia is the embodiment of sex for Little Joe, and she’s shown to be controlled by the devil’s followers.
  • Prayer Pose: Poor Petunia prays a lot for Little Joe.
  • Titled After the Song: The Broadway and the flim verisons.
  • Uncle Tom Foolery: Just like its Spiritual Predecessor Hallelujah!, Cabin in the Sky dabbles in stereotypes: the very poor and religious folk, the bad grammar, and the philandering husband who gambles with dice. However, Italian-American director Vincente Minnelli said that "if there were any reservations about the film, they revolved around the story, which reinforced the naive, childlike stereotype of blacks. But I knew there were such people as the deeply pious Petunia and Joe, her weak gambler of a husband, and that such wives constantly prayed for the wavering souls of their men...If I was going to make a picture about such people, I would approach it with great affection rather than condescension." Even with these stereotypes, the film gives fully-formed feelings and motivations to its characters, nor does it ever laugh at them for being who they are.
  • The Vamp: Lena Horne’s Georgia Brown leads Little Joe into temptation.
  • Villain Song: The preexisting song "Shine" is repurposed as an "I Am" Song for the villainous gangster, Domino. Professional dancer John Bubbles, who played Domino, delivered an amazing performance with Duke Ellingdon's band that is perhaps the most well remembered part of the film today.