Musical Monday: On with the Show! (1929)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
On With The Show! (1929) – Musical No. 605

Studio: Warner Bros.

Director: Alan Crosland

Starring:
Arthur Lake, Betty Compson, Joe E. Brown, Sally O’Neil, William Bakewell, Louise Fazenda, Sam Hardy, Ethel Waters, John W. Bubbles, Henry Fink, Otto Hoffman, Purnell Pratt, Josephine Huston, The Fairbanks Twins (Marion Fairbanks, Madeline Fairbanks)

Plot:
A performance stage troupe hopes to hit it big with their show “The Phantom Sweetheart.” They haven’t made it to Broadway and their actors haven’t been paid so their livelihood stands on the success of this performance. Offstage, the actors (Lake, Compson, Brown, Fazenda) and producer (Hardy) deal with a collector who wants to take the box office earnings or the scenery to pay for their debts. Midway through the show, the box office money is stolen and a ticket taker (Bakewell) is accused of stealing it.

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Musical Monday: “Cabin in the Sky” (1943)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.


cabin-in-the-sky-movie-poster-1943-1020197555This week’s musical:

Cabin in the Sky” –Musical #379

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Vincent Minnelli, uncredited Busby Berkley

Starring:
Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Eddie “Rocherster” Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Rex Ingram, Kenneth Green, Butterfly McQueen, Ruby Dandridge, Duke Ellington, Mantan Moreland, Willie Best, John Williams Sublett, Juanita Moore (uncredited)

Plot:
In a “Faust”-like plot, Little Joe Jackson (Anderson) is a compulsive gambler and his wife Petunia (Waters) is trying to get him to repent his sins at church.
Little Joe is shot over his gambling debt. He dies and the Devil comes to take him but an angel from heaven steps in to give him six months to live and straighten his life out.
While Little Joe is on the right path, the Devil’s workers are doing everything they can to bring him back to a life of sin.

Trivia:
-One of six all black films made by a major Hollywood studio between 1927 and 1954, according to “Beyond Racial Stereotypes: Subversive Subtexts in Cabin in the Sky” by Kate Marie Weber.
Those films include “Halleljuah” (1927) by MGM, “Hearts in Dixie” (1927) by 20th Century Fox, “Green Pastures” (1936) by Warner Brothers, “Stormy Weather” (1944) by 20th Century Fox and “Carmen Jones” (1954) by 20th Century Fox.
-Vincent Minnelli’s first credited, solo directing experience. Minnelli also helped with “Panama Hattie” (1942), but is uncredited.
-A song performed by Lena Horne called “Ain’t It the Truth” was cut from the film. She was taking a bubble bath during the song and it was considered too sexy and immoral for a black woman to sing in a bath tub, Lena Horne said in an interview.

Lena Horne singing "Ain't It the Truth" in the scene that was cut from "Cabin in the Sky."

Lena Horne singing “Ain’t It the Truth” in the scene that was cut from “Cabin in the Sky.”

-The tornado in the tornado scene was footage recycled from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).
-The story premiered on Broadway in 1940 with the same title starring Ethel Waters as Petunia Jackson, Dooley Wilson as “Little Joe” Jackson, Katherine Dunham as Georgia Brown, Rex Ingram as Lucifer Junior, and Todd Duncan as The Lord’s General.
Ingram and Waters are the only actors who reprised their role on screen.
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe” written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Hamburg.

Lucifer, Jr. sends Georgia Brown to tempt Little Joe. The General tells Joe to stay strong.

Lucifer, Jr. sends Georgia Brown to tempt Little Joe. The General tells Joe to stay strong.

Highlights:
-Louis Armstrong, though it is a very small role.
-Eddie Rochester Anderson’s dancing during “Cabin in the Sky”

Notable Songs:
-“Taking a Chance on Love” performed by Ethel Waters and Eddie Rochester Anderson
-Happiness is a Thing Called Joe” performed by Ethel Waters
-“Life is Full of Consequences” performed by Eddie Rochester Anderson and Lena Horne
-“Shine” performed by John Williams Sublett

My Review:
“Cabin in the Sky” is an interesting film, maybe even unusual, for 1943.
As mentioned above, it is one of seven films made during a 30 year span produced by one of Hollywood’s major studios with an all African-American cast.
This film came as a response when the African-American community demanded better treatment in films. The federal government was involved in the drive for all black casting, according to The Films of Vincente Minnelli by James Naremore.
President Roosevelt’s administration advocated black actors in major film roles in Hollywood. This apparently was connected to the New Deal, hoping the roles would create more jobs for minorities in the film industry, according to Beyond Racial Stereotypes: Subversive Subtexts in “Cabin in the Sky” by Kate Marie Weber.
The NAACP also met with Hollywood executives, demanding better roles for blacks.
The result was “Cabin in the Sky” and “Stormy Weather.”

Petunia prays for Little Joe after he is shot over his gambling debts.

Petunia prays for Little Joe after he is shot over his gambling debts.


Though the musical was made in the Arthur Freed Unit-known for lavish and high quality films- it was the lowest budgeted musical he produced. Freed however fought for more funding for “Cabin in the Sky” but did not receive it, according to Weber.
Though the film was meant to better black roles in Hollywood, it did not eliminate racial stereotypes that were seen in many films made during this time.
Some characters were presented as naive, lazy and didn’t want to work, church goers, and lovers of jazz music. This also apparently disappointed director Vincent Minnelli in his first directorial effort.
Minnelli handpicked the cast and worked to make the film visually pleasing.
The film opened to positive reviews from the New York Times, though some Southern states unsurprisingly refused to show the movie.
While there are obvious racial stereotypes, “Cabin in the Sky” does showcase the talents of actor who generally were playing maids, sidekicks or specialty singers in films.
Eddie “Rocherster” Anderson shows off his acting chops as the lead performer. He carries the whole film well and is also hilarious. Rex Ingram, as Lucifer Jr., and Kenneth Spencer, as God’s General, also do great jobs.
Lena Horne, as Georgia Brown, and Ethel Waters fill the film with several wonderful songs. However, I do wish Horne had more screen time.
Another disappointment was how little Louis Armstrong was in the film. He was maybe on screen for 10 minutes. That was a real disappointment.
All of that being said, I really enjoyed “Cabin in the Sky.” Anderson and the Devil’s disciples are hilarious, the songs are great and I was entertained throughout.
Most classic films do have stereotypical elements. But rather than ignore them, I think it’s important to learn from it and keep in mind that these movies were made during a very different time. Pop culture and films are just another way to learn about our history- even the unpleasant parts.

Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington and director Vincent Minnelli on the set of "Cabin in the Sky" (1943). Source: A Certain Cinema

Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington and director Vincent Minnelli on the set of “Cabin in the Sky” (1943).
Source: A Certain Cinema

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Musical Monday: “Cairo” (1942)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

cairoThis week’s musical:
Cairo” (1942)–Musical #477

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
W.S. Van Dyke
Starring:
Jeannette MacDonald, Robert Young, Ethel Waters, Reginald Owen, Grant Mitchell, Lionell Atwill, Rhys Williams, MonaBarrie

Plot:
Small town reporter Homer Smith (Young) is picked to travel abroad to cover the war after his newspaper is chosen as “America’s Typical Small Town Newspaper.” On his way to Cairo, his ship sinks and he floats along the ocean with another survivor (Owen) who gives him a message to deliver if they both survive. Hence, Homer gets mixed up in a spy ring. Once the message is delivered, Homer becomes convinced that singer and movie star Marcia Warren (MacDonald) is also a spy and begins working as her butler so he can investigate her. Marcia also believes Homer is a spy. While they investigate each other, the real spy ring is working to explode an Allied convoy.

Trivia:
-Director W.S. Van Dyke is credited as “Maj. W.S. Van Dyke.” Dyke was promoted to Major prior to World War II and set up a Marine Corps recruiting center in his MGM office. He convinced several actor to join up.

-Lena Horne was originally cast as the Ethel Water’s role as MacDonald’s maid. However, Horne refused to play roles that made her domestic servants, according to Leading Ladies: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actresses of the Studio Era

-The movie was originally to be shot in Technicolor but was switched to black and white, according to TThe Espionage Filmography by Paul Mavis.

-Jeannette MacDonald’s film that she was fully the star.

-One of Jeanette MacDonald’s least popular films, according to The Hollywood Musical Goes to War by Allen Woll. (Even more than I Married an Angel?)

-Jeannette MacDonald singing “Les Filles de Cadiz” in the credits and on the movie screen is edited footage from the 1937 film “Maytime.”

Jeanette MacDonald is worried Robert Young has fallen into hands of spies. Also pictured- Ethel Waters and Rhys Williams.

Jeanette MacDonald is worried Robert Young has fallen into hands of spies. Also pictured- Ethel Waters and Rhys Williams.

Highlights:
-Ethel Waters sings operatically in response to Jeanette’s singing.

-Robert Young’s hilarious fake English accent he uses to get a job as MacDonald’s butler.

Funny quotes such as:
-Robert: Have you ever been in San Francisco?
Jeanette MacDonald: Yes. Once with Gable and Tracey and the joint fell apart.

Notable Songs:
-Buds Won’t Bud sung by Ethel Waters and Dooley Wilson
-Waiting for Robert E. Lee sung by Jeanette MacDonald and Ethel Waters (notable for the fact that MacDonald lets loose and isn’t singing in an opera voice)
-Les Filles de Cadix sung by Jeanette MacDonald. (We only hear this song over the credits and see footage of MacDonald singing it in “Maytime,” but I love this song and had to add it).
-“Il Bacio” sung by Jeanette MacDonald in a bathtub and Ethel Waters echoing back in a faux opera voice. Hilarious.
-From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water sung by Jeanette MacDonald
-Beautiful Ohio sung by Jeanette MacDonald

Review:
This is not your typical Jeanette MacDonald musical where she is singing with Nelson Eddy as a princess, opera singer or duchess. In fact, this is a lot more fun. Really, this is more an MGM comedy with a few songs added in for MacDonald and Ethel Waters.

I really enjoyed seeing MacDonald in a comedic role. She was funny, down to Earth, had great comedic delivery and I wish she made movies like this. There are even jokes in the film picking fun of MacDonald’s films such as “San Francisco.” The ever underrated Robert Young is also a delight, as always. Waters is hilarious as well and we get the opportunity to hear her sing.

Plain and simple, I loved this film.  No, there is real no message or heartfelt moment and it is one of Jeanette MacDonald’s least popular films but….I found it enjoyable. There is just something about a W.S. Van Dyke directed film. It had several laugh out loud moments and I plan on buying it on DVD very soon.

Publicity photo of Robert Young and Jeanette MacDonald for "Cairo."

Publicity photo of Robert Young and Jeanette MacDonald for “Cairo.”

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