Cabin in the Sky

Cabin in the Sky

5.0 2
Director: Vincente Minnelli

Cast: Ethel Waters, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Lena Horne

     
 

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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 farSee more details below

Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Craig Butler
Cabin in the Sky was an auspicious directorial debut for the young Vincente Minnelli and provided Ethel Waters and Lena Horne with an excellent showcase for their considerable talents. Although the film is often criticized for what today are regarded as stereotypical characteristics (e.g., a weakness for gambling, a childish world view, oversimplified religious beliefs, etc.), overall Minnelli treats the story as the simple folktale it essentially is. His finely honed visual sense is evident in the careful compositions he creates for the camera and in the precise attention to detail in the sets and costumes. Minnelli also keeps the pace moving at a nice clip, although he's not afraid to slow things down when necessary -- as when Waters lovingly and deliberately intones the beautiful "Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe." Waters is wonderful throughout, creating a clearly drawn portrait of a woman whose love for two things -- her man and her religion -- will get her through anything. She punches home her laugh lines like the seasoned pro she is and demonstrates in "Taking a Chance on Love," and the title song, why she was one of the finest singers of her day. Horne matches her every step of the way, exuding an exquisite sultriness and demonstrating in her own numbers that hers is not a voice to be taken for granted. Eddie "Rochester" Anderson is a lovable and winning Joe, and the rest of the cast is quite good. The film's surprise critical success helped Minnelli land the job of directing the classic Meet Me in St. Louis the following year.

Product Details

Release Date:
01/10/2006
UPC:
0012569676787
Original Release:
1943
Rating:
NR
Source:
Warner Home Video
Region Code:
1
Time:
1:38:00
Sales rank:
6,206

Special Features

Closed Caption; 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

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Ethel Waters Petunia Jackson
Eddie "Rochester" Anderson Little Joe Jackson
Lena Horne Georgia Brown
Louis Armstrong The Trumpeter
Rex Ingram Lucius Lucifer, Jr.
Kenneth Spencer Rev. Green, the General
John "Bubbles" Sublette Domino
Oscar Polk The Deacon/Flatfoot
Mantan Moreland First Idea Man
Willie Best Second Idea Man
Fletcher Rivers Third Idea Man, Moke
Leon James Fourth Idea Man, Poke
William Norton Bailey Bill
Ford L. Washington Messenger Boy
Butterfly McQueen Lily
Ruby Dandridge Mrs. Kelso
Ernest Whitman Jim Henry
Hall Johnson Choir Actor
Stewart Nicodemus Dude
Duke Ellington Actor
Archie Savage Dancer

Technical Credits
Vincente Minnelli Director
Harold Arlen Score Composer,Songwriter
George Bassman Score Composer
Roger Edens Score Composer
Duke Ellington Score Composer,Songwriter
Arthur Freed Producer
Cedric Gibbons Set Decoration/Design
E.Y. "Yip" Harburg Score Composer,Songwriter
Hugh Hunt Art Director
Harold Kress Editor
John Latouche Songwriter
Albert Lewis Associate Producer
Joseph Schrank Screenwriter
George Stoll Musical Direction/Supervision
Leonid Vasian Set Decoration/Design
Sidney Wagner Cinematographer
Edwin B. Willis Art Director

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Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Cabin in the Sky
1. Credits and Foreword [2:09]
2. Talent for Gambling [3:59]
3. Li'l Black Sheep [2:57]
4. Trouble [3:34]
5. Lucifer Jr. [4:39]
6. The General [4:49]
7. Little Joe's Reprieve [3:08]
8. Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe [3:31]
9. Roll of the Dice [3:09]
10. Cabin in the Sky [6:28]
11. Hotel Hades Idea Dept. [5:13]
12. Georgia Moseys [1:39]
13. Happy Birthday [2:07]
14. Taking a Chance on Love [4:41]
15. News Worth Reading [3:54]
16. Georgia on His Mind [4:49]
17. Life's Full of Consequences [2:01]
18. Petunia's Breaking Point [2:58]
19. Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe Reprise [2:24]
20. Duke at Jim Henry's [3:40]
21. Domino Johnson [1:39]
22. Shine [3:04]
23. Grand Entrance [1:53]
24. Honey in the Honeycomb [1:29]
25. Blossoming Petunia [3:42]
26. Honey in the Honeycomb Reprise [2:21]
27. Stormy Weather [2:44]
28. Devilish Demotion [4:10]
29. Stairway to Heaven [2:41]
30. Taking a Chance on Love Reprise [2:47]

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