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(I decided to forgo today’s NaPoWriMo prompt about flowers, because really, how many movies about flowers are there? At least one of the characters in this random choice is named Petunia.)


When your mind is debating on whether or not
You should go for that third piece of pie,
Or whether you’re better off tying the knot
With a sinner or saint worth a try,
You may not be able to see who is there
As they whisper advice you might take,
But angels and devils are rapt in midair,
Intent on your every mistake.

So next time you manage to fend off temptation
And choose to obey that red light,
Or when you hold in your off-color frustration
At stubbing your toe late at night,
Just know that, although you may not hear a sound,
Your good choices made someone upset,
And that someone is probably pounding the ground,
Because you just lost him a bet.

MPAA rating: might as well be G

One day not long ago, I decided to just watch this random old movie for no other reason than it was there. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, Cabin in the Sky is a notable film due to its entirely African-American cast, which was unheard-of back in 1943, and it surprised many by performing well with white audiences too, perhaps because the vices, virtues, and caricatures on display are not exclusively black.

Little Joe (Eddie “Rochester” Anderson) can’t seem to shake his gambling addiction, despite the insistence of his religious wife Petunia (excellent Ethel Waters, who reprised her role from the play from which the film was adapted). After his bad habit ends up killing him, Little Joe is confronted by demons eager to take him to hell, but his wife’s prayers earn him a temporary second chance to straighten out his life. Aside from the fact that the plot seems to have inspired a memorable Tom and Jerry cartoon (“Heavenly Puss” if I’m not mistaken), it was a rather fun dynamic watching literal versions of a shoulder angel and devil pulling the characters in different directions. Once Little Joe returns to life, he doesn’t remember or see the spirits, and watching the spiritual enemies vying for him to make right or wrong choices is like a lighthearted version of The Screwtape Letters.

Where Cabin in the Sky falls is in its status as a musical. A musical number is supposed to enhance emotions or be generally enjoyable, but the few songs here just drag the pace to an unnecessary standstill. “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe” is the only one worth hearing and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Song, but the rest are wholly forgettable, with one wince-inducing number confirming that Eddie Anderson’s scratchy voice was not meant for singing. Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong have small roles, but it was odd that Armstrong never even got to sing.

The music aside, Cabin in the Sky is a reasonably charming old movie with good work from its black cast, including Lena Horne as Little Joe’s worst temptation. If you’re looking for a random movie to watch, you could do worse.

Best line: (Georgia, played by Horne) “I’m just speaking my mind.”   (Petunia) “And I ain’t heard nothing yet.”


Rank: Honorable Mention


© 2016 S. G. Liput

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