Cabin in the Sky (1943)
Little Joe, a well-meaning but inveterate gambler, is shot over his unpaid debts by the gangster Domino Johnson. On his deathbed, angelic powers give him a second chance to reform – six months to shape up, or he get sent to the fire down below. But it won’t be that easy; Lucifer Jr. is determined to tempt him back to his old ways and drag him into Hell – and he’s got quite a lot of temptation to go around!
The first feature film by acclaimed stage and screen director Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me In St. Louis, An American in Paris, Gigi), Cabin in the Sky features an all-Black cast including Ethel Waters, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson and Lena Horne. Most famously, it also features a rare film appearance from Louis Armstrong himself, and Duke Ellington (and his Orchestra) have a showcase musical number.
But even with all that popular acclaim and star power, it was still a controversial film. A reprise of Ain’t It the Truth with Lena Horne performing in a bubble bath was cut, because it was believed that to show a Black woman singing in a bath went “beyond the bounds of moral decency.” Movie theaters in many cities refused to show films with prominent Black performers, much less an entirely Black cast. In July of 1943, a sheriff in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee ordered the film stopped after 30 minutes. The treatment of this film and scores more like it is a stain forever on the reputation of the film and entertainment industry. But the movie itself is as vivid and joyful and full of life as the day it was released.
Guests are invited to stay after the screening for a panel discussion with film industry insiders to put Cabin in the Sky in context for its time period and consider how it has impacted Black cinema since.
The Black Love Classics Series is presented by TECO, with additional support provided by Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey.