Cabin in the Sky (Vincente Minnelli / U.S., 1943):

Modern editions are prefaced by warnings about stereotypes and changing attitudes, as if this lustrous, gospel-folklore retelling of Faust were something to be embarrassed by. Vincente Minnelliís slinky fluidity is unveiled early, an unbroken take has the camera zigzagging across a congregation singing "Liíl Black Sheep" as news of the sinner sitting in the back of the chapel travel from parishioner to parishioner. Little Joe (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson) goes to church to overcome the gamblerís addiction to "calamity cubes" but disappears when itís time for confession, his wife (Ethel Waters) finds him at the Paradise Club with a bullet in his belly: "I got into a little trouble again, honey." The ensuing delirium visualizes a soul suspended between stools, Lucifer, Jr. (Rex Ingram) and the celestial General (Kenneth Spencer) grant him a few more months on Earth to test his virtue. Heaven has the advantage of Watersí Petunia, who beats Little Joeís dice-shooting cronies at their own game and chases them away with a broom ("Sometimes when you fight the Devil, you got to jab him with his own pitchfork"). But Hell has Louis Armstrong among the "Idea Department" imps, and also Lena Horne, whose Georgia Brown (in magnolia hat and bare midriff) is a serious argument for straying from the good path. The basis is The Wizard of Oz, down to the cameo by the Kansas twister. The Minnelli style is already fully formed in the great nightclub sequence -- the camera follows a couple through the doors, cranes up to take in the sinuous crowd on the dance floor, then down to find Duke Ellington at the piano. (A jitterbugging duo storms in, the orgy explodes.) Waters shimmers with "Happiness is a Thing Called Joe" and "Taking a Chance on Love," Anderson with "Consequences," Horne with "Honey in the Honeycomb." "Shine" is John W. "Bubbles" Sublettís astounding number, he flies like Astaire. The Lord smites Sodom most spectacularly, Heaven is a pearly stairway revisited by Powell and Pressburger: "Long climb, ainít it?" With Butterfly McQueen, Oscar Polk, Mantan Moreland, Willie Best, and the Hall Johnson Chorus. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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