AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Cabin in the Sky
Director: Vincente Minnelli (Dir)
Release Date:   9 Apr 1943
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 27 Mar 1943
Production Date:   31 Aug--29 Oct 1942
Duration (in mins):   98
Duration (in feet):   8,862
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Cast:   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 W. "Bubbles" Sublett (Domino Johnson)  
    Oscar Polk (The Deacon/[Sgt.] Fleetfoot)  
    Mantan Moreland (First Idea Man)  
    Willie Best (Second Idea Man)  
    Fletcher "Moke" Rivers (Third Idea Man)  
    Leon "Poke" James (Fourth Idea Man)  
    Bill Bailey (Bill)  
    Ford L. "Buck" Washington (Messenger boy)  
    Butterfly McQueen (Lily)  
    Ruby Dandridge (Mrs. Kelso)  
    Nicodemus (Dude)  
    Ernest Whitman (Jim Henry)  
    Duke Ellington   and His Orchestra
    The Hall Johnson Choir    
    Rita Christiani (Specialty dancer, Hell seq/Jitterbug number)  
    Kathleen Hartsfield (Specialty dancer, Hell seq)  
    Lawaune Ingram (Specialty dancer, Hell seq)  
    Jas. Burch (Specialty dancer, Hell seq)  
    Byron Ellis (Specialty dancer, Hell seq)  
    Jieno Moxzer (Specialty dancer, Hell seq)  
    Artie Brandon (Specialty dancer, Hell seq)  
    June Decuire (Specialty dancer, Hell seq)  
    Louise Ritchie (Specialty dancer, Hell seq)  
    Jules Adger (Specialty dancer, Hell seq)  
    Bernard Bradley (Specialty dancer, Hell seq)  
    Curry Lee Calmes (Specialty dancer, Hell seq)  
    Bobby Johnson (Specialty dancer, Hell seq)  
    Henry Roberts (Specialty dancer, Hell seq)  
    John Thomas (Specialty dancer, Hell seq)  
    William Gillespie ("Little Black Sheep" soloist)  
    Edward Short ("Little Black Sheep" soloist)  
    Arthur Walker ("Little Black Sheep" soloist)  
    Meade Lux Lewis ("Take a Chance on Love" whistling solo)  

Summary: Hopeful that her gambling, ne'er-do-well husband Little Joe Jackson has finally reformed, Petunia suggests that he have Rev. Green burn his dice and release the devil's hold on him. A religious woman and loving wife, Petunia is heartened by Little Joe's promise to repent his sins in church. Little Joe soon resumes his gambling, however, when gambler Domino Johnson entices him to return to the casino at Jim Henry's Paradise Café. Petunia later goes in search of Little Joe, only to discover that he has been shot in a gunfight at the Paradise Café. As Petunia prays over her wounded husband, Lucifer, Jr., the ghost of Little Joe's friend Lucius, enters the room and orders Little Joe to "report to duty." Little Joe does not believe that he is dying until Lucifer, Jr. and his three aides show him his lifeless body. When the General, responding to Petunia's prayers, suddenly appears in the room, Lucifer, Jr. engages him in a battle for Little Joe's soul. While Sgt. Fleetfoot is sent by the General to get a judgment on Little Joe's case from the Lord, Lucifer, Jr. predicts that Little Joe's involvement with vamp Georgia Brown will result in his banishment to Hell. The Lord determines that Little Joe is not fit for Heaven, but he permits Little Joe to return to Earth for six months and prove his worth. With no recollection of his meeting with the Lord or Lucifer, Jr., Little Joe regains consciousness and begins his six-month reprieve. Petunia believes her husband's recovery to be a miracle, but both she and Little Joe are unaware that Lucifer, Jr. and the General will be talking to his conscience and battling for his soul. No sooner does Little Joe resume his daily life than his gambling pals, Jim Henry and Dude, who have been sent by Lucifer, Jr., try to tempt him into a game of dice. Petunia chases Jim and Dude away, but Lucifer, Jr. devises another scheme to distract Little Joe and make him backslide into Hell. Heeding the advice of those working at the Hotel Hades Idea Department, Lucifer, Jr. decides to corrupt Little Joe with riches, and sends him a winning lottery ticket. Little Joe's chances at getting into Heaven improve when he plans to use the money to buy Petunia a washing machine and a house, but when Georgia intervenes, Little Joe returns to the Paradise Café. Petunia succeeds in winning back her husband by going to the casino and singing better than Georgia, but before they leave, a gun battle ensues and Petunia and Little Joe are shot and killed. Furious at Lucifer, Jr.'s meddling, the General sends down a storm and wrecks the Paradise Café. In Purgatory, Petunia is told that she is eligible to pass through the Pearly Gates into Heaven, while Little Joe is rejected. It is only after Little Joe repents and the Lord vouches for him that the General reverses his decision and allows Little Joe to join his wife in Heaven. Moments after he is told of the decision, Little Joe realizes that his brush with the afterlife was all a dream, and vows to change his ways. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's Inc.)
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: Vincente Minnelli (Dir)
  Al Shenberg (Asst dir)
Producer: Arthur Freed (Prod)
  Albert Lewis (Assoc prod)
Writer: Joseph Schrank (Scr)
  Marc Connelly (Contr wrt)
Photography: Sidney Wagner (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Leonid Vasian (Assoc)
Film Editor: Harold F. Kress (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis (Set dec)
  Hugh Hunt (Assoc)
Costumes: Irene (Cost supv)
  Shoup (Assoc)
  Gile Steele (Men's cost)
Music: Roger Edens (Mus adpt)
  Georgie Stoll (Mus dir)
  George Bassman (Orch)
  Hall Johnson (Choral arr)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec dir)
Dance: Archie Savage (Dance dir)
Production Misc: Charles Levin (Unit mgr)
  Gil Kurland (Unit prod mgr)
Country: United States

Music: "Going Up" by Duke Ellington.
Songs: "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe," "Life's Full O' Consequence" and "Li'l Black Sheep," music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E. Y. Harburg; "Cabin in the Sky" and "Honey in the Honeycomb," music by Vernon Duke, lyrics by John Latouche; "Taking a Chance on Love," music by Vernon Duke, lyrics by John Latouche and Ted Fetter.
Composer: Harold Arlen
  Vernon Duke
  Duke Ellington
  Ted Fetter
  E. Y. Harburg
  John Latouche
Source Text: Based on the musical Cabin in the Sky , book by Lynn Root, lyrics by John Latouche, music by Vernon Duke, as produced by Albert Lewis in association with Vinton Freedley (New York, 25 Oct 1940).
Authors: Albert Lewis
  John Latouche
  Lynn Root
  Vernon Duke
  Vinton Freedley

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Loew's Inc. 9/2/1943 dd/mm/yyyy LP11861 Yes

PCA NO: 8964
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

Genre: Musical
Sub-Genre: African American
Subjects (Major): African Americans
  The Devil
  Compulsive gamblers
  Moral reformation
Subjects (Minor): Biblical characters
  Death and dying
  Gunshot wounds

Note: Actors Ethel Waters and Rex Ingram appeared in the 1940 Broadway production of Cabin in the Sky and reprised their roles for this film. The Broadway production also starred Katherine Dunham, Dooley Wilson and Todd Duncan. An Apr 1942 HR news item noted that M-G-M purchased the film rights to the musical play for $40,000, and that the producers of the Broadway show lost $25,000 during its New York run. Cabin in the Sky marked Vincente Minnelli's first comprehensive screen directorial assignment. Prior to this film, Minnelli had directed stage shows and individual musical numbers in two Judy Garland films. Although some modern sources refer to Cabin in the Sky as Lena Horne's first film, she actually made her motion picture debut in the 1938 Million Dollar Production The Duke Is Tops (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.1147) and had also appeared in the 1942 M-G-M film Panama Hattie (see below).
       According to a Jul 1942 HR news item, writer Marc Connelly contributed to the screenplay by "bending the storyline to make 'Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe' a plot point." Modern sources list Eustace Cocrell as a contributor to the screenplay, and note that Busby Berkeley directed one of the film's musical numbers. An early Aug 1942 HR news item noted that Gene Kelly was set to direct dances, but his participation in the final film is unlikely. Although news items in HR announced that Paul Robeson was being considered for a starring role, and that Cab Calloway was set for an "important" role opposite Waters, neither Calloway nor Robeson appeared in the film. Various news items in HR list actors Raymond Turner, Clinton Rosemond and Napoleon Whiting in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
       According to an Apr 1942 HR news item, this picture was to have been the first of three M-G-M "all-Negro" musicals. M-G-M considered producing a second all-black cast film, a motion picture version of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess , but made no additional all-black cast films. Cabin in the Sky featured only two songs from the original stage musical, "Taking a Chance on Love" and "Cabin in the Sky." One musical number written especially for the picture, "I Gotta Song," was removed from the film before its release. According to modern sources, the film cost approximately $680,000, making it one of producer Arthur Freed's least expensive musicals of the 1940s. Modern sources note that prominent caricaturist Al Hirschfeld designed posters for the picture. The song "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe" was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Song. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   Jun 43   p. 215.
Box Office   13 Feb 1943.   
Daily Variety   10 Feb 43   pp. 3-4.
Film Daily   15 Feb 43   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Apr 1942.   
Hollywood Reporter   14 Apr 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   25 May 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Jul 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   31 Jul 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Aug 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Aug 42   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Aug 42   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Sep 42   p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Sep 42   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Oct 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Feb 43   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Jun 43   p. 4.
Motion Picture Daily   10 Feb 1943.   
Motion Picture Herald   13 Feb 1943.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   13 Feb 43   p. 1157.
New York Times   28 Mar 43   p. 19.
Variety   10 Feb 43   p. 8.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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