Night and Day: Wednesday, January 30, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Georgia on My Mind

Fort Worth Public Library begins a month of activities this weekend to celebrate Black History Month. Along with storytelling at many branches, there’s an art exhibit and a screening of Cabin in the Sky, a 1943 film that’s a fascinating relic, at the Central Library.

The movie featured an all-black cast, the first Hollywood film to do so since 1929. It’s about a small-time hustler named Little Joe (Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, temporarily freed from being Jack Benny’s sidekick but still doing the same shtick) who’s severely wounded in a bar fight. His near-death experience prompts a battle for his soul between Heaven and Hell, personified by his saintly wife Petunia (Ethel Waters) and his mistress Georgia Brown (Lena Horne). The film’s religious views are embarrassingly simplistic (though to be fair, black independent filmmakers of the time like Spencer Williams dealt in the same stereotypes), and the film makes evil look like a lot more fun than virtuousness — if wickedness means hanging out with the sexy Horne while Duke Ellington’s band plays in the background, take me to hell.

The film’s redeeming value is in its musical numbers. The movie renders Waters’ piety insufferable, but her honeyed renditions of “Taking a Chance on Love” and “Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe” are compensation. Horne’s astringency is softened somewhat here, but she still shines. The brilliant, self-destructive song-and-dance man John W. Sublett (a.k.a. “John Bubbles” in his time) shows some liquid grace as a bad guy in his one number. As a document of 1940s jazz and gospel styles, and as a rare early Hollywood attempt to reach out to black audiences, Cabin in the Sky is an indispensable bit of history.

Cabin in the Sky is at 2pm Sun at Fort Worth Central Public Library, 500 W 3rd St, FW. Admission is free. Call 817-871-7702.


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