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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Cabin In the Sky (1943)



Reviews and Comments

1943, a pretty segregated time, saw the release of two enchanting all-black musicals. I prefer the other one, Stormy Weather, by a nose, but both are delightful. In Cabin In the Sky, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson is torn between the angel and the devil whispering in his ears. That sets up a lighthearted but surprisingly complex story about faith and temptation. Of course the real reason to see this is the wonderful jazz music and breathtaking dancing. The cast includes such musical legends as Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, all in top form.

Inexplicably, Warner Brothers released this film with an apology for racism in the film. Had they seen it? There is nothing racist here at all. To perceive racism in this film, you have to bring it with you. The main character, for example, gambles compulsively and cheats on his wife. That's the premise of the story. But to see that as a stereotype requires one to see the character neither as an individual nor as a human being with universal temptations but simply as a black man. This couldn't be more different than the view the film itself takes towards any of its characters.

The spiritual side of the film does bother me, however. In the film's portrayal of spiritual judgment, the main character will only get to heaven if he leads a good life. Certainly repentance is a step God wants us to make. But the Bible teaches that no one can be "good" enough to earn one's way into heaven. If one could, what use would there have been for Christ's sacrifice? It is "not of works" but "by grace are ye saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8-9). The main character is a sinner, as we all are, but you don't earn forgiveness simply by ceasing to sin. Imagine a bank robber pleading for mercy in court because, well, he may have robbed the one bank, but by gum he'd changed his ways and hadn't robbed any since. The punishment for the crime must still be carried out; only faith that Jesus Christ already took that punishment upon himself has saving power.

This distinction would not have been lost on the Christian culture this film depicts. It's the one aspect of the film that rings falsely. The rest is sheer joy.