MGM knew it would take a bath on its all-black musical Cabin in the Sky (few Southern theaters of 1943 would touch the film), but the studio still provided its standard A-plus production values to the film; besides, it served as a training ground for up-and-coming director Vincente Minnelli.
Based on the Broadway musical by Lynn Root, John LaTouche, and Vernon Duke, the film tells the story of Joe (Eddie Rochester Anderson), a shantytown denizen torn between the affections of faithful wife Petunia (Ethel Waters) and slinky seductress Georgia (Lena Horne).
Seriously injured in a barroom brawl, Joe dreams that he is the centerpiece of a celestial power struggle between a heavenly emissary (Kenneth Spencer) and Lucifer Jr. (Rex Ingram, who ironically had played De Lawd in The Green Pastures). Joe is given another chance to redeem himself on Earth, lest he fall into the clutches of the Devil's little boy.
Louis Armstrong briefly shows up, appropriately cast as The Trumpeter.
Song highlights include Taking a Chance on Love, Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe, Life's Full of Consequences, and the title song. A troubled production thanks to the on-set rivalry between Ethel Waters and Lena Horne, Cabin in the Sky is nonetheless an excellent first feature effort from Vincente Minnelli.
Thanks to his careful treatment of the material, the expected patronization of the black characters does not impede latter-day enjoyment of the film as much as it might have.