In retrospect, I see I had rather set myself up for a bit of a fall with Cabin in the Sky (Vincent Minnelli, USA, 1943)—I had imagined something more jazz and less “slice of life,” and as a result I ended up being more than a bit disappointed. The film is at its best when Minnelli indulges in the subject matter’s more metaphysical elements (decking his actors out in evocative otherwordly refinery that matches the spiritual allegiance of their earthly characters), and the film reaches a blissful crescendo in those ribald sequences in the sleazy town gin joint as the end of the film—Ethel Waters’s unexpected vivaciousness during these scenes lead to the the feeling that debauchery is more fun and perhaps even preferable to the title’s piously attained stairway in the sky.
Things are more hit-and-miss during the long stretches when Waters piously slaves away—both physically and spiritually—for a man who can’t seem to help doing her endless wrong (another of the film’s glaring weaknesses is that Eddie “Rochester” Anderson fails to give any indication as to the source of passion he seems to inspire in both Waters and sexy town flirt Lena Horne). While not the indisputable masterpiece I was hoping (and expecting) it to be, I’m still willing to affirm Cabin in the Sky as a very good film, maybe even an excellent one, all the while conceding that Stormy Weather, made the same year, is probably the film I wanted in the first place.
[And while I don’t often comment on such things in these reviews I just have to mention that the commentary provided on the Warner Bros. DVD is a disgrace—while I’m naturally sympathetic towards Dr. Todd Boyd’s politically correct reading of the film, he manages to drain every once of joy the film might possibly posses, as he seems resolutely unaware of the potential that the winning performances from those involved might mitigate some of the inevitable stereotypes on display (it doesn’t help that he’s terribly simplistic in his analysis). I turned on the commentary because I honestly wanted some analysis from a contemporary African American perspective—but I turned this off after all of ten minutes in utter disgust.]