Cabin in the Sky
Based upon a popular Broadway play of the same name, Cabin in the Sky tells a version of the Faust legend in which Little Joe, a man killed over gambling debts, is given six months to redeem his soul and become worthy of entering Heaven — otherwise his soul will be condemned to Hell.
Produced by Arthur Freed and directed by Vincente Minnelli in one of his first Hollywood productions, Cabin in the Sky was a groundbreaking production for its time due to the decision to use an all-African-American cast. In the 1940s, movie theaters in many cities, particularly in the southern United States, refused to show films with prominent black performers, so MGM took a considerable financial risk by approving the film.
The movie starred Ethel Waters as Petunia and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson of Jack Benny fame as Little Joe. Lena Horne co-starred as the temptress Georgia Brown in her first and only leading role in an MGM musical. Other cast members included Louis Armstrong as one of Lucifer Jr's minions, Rex Ingram, and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra.
The film was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Song category for "Happiness is a Thing Called Joe."
Cabin in the Sky is remembered for its intelligent and witty script, which treated its characters and their race with a dignity rare in American films of the time (although some depictions are still a bit jarring to 21st Century sensibilities). Reportedly, Freed and Minnelli sought input from black leaders before production began on the film.
One musical number, in which Horne sings "Ain't it the Truth" while taking a bubble bath, was cut from the film prior to release though it later appeared in a 1946 film entitled Studio Visit. As Horne later said in the documentary That's Entertainment III in which the excised performance was featured, it was felt that to show a black woman singing in a bath went beyond the bounds of moral decency in 1943. A second (non-bubble bath) performance of this song by Louis Armstrong, was also cut from the final print.