Cabin in the Sky came out in 1943. A time of war, struggle and racism. Cabin in the Sky was a chance. A chance for black people in America to change history. This film was the first ever to star an all-black cast. So of course producing this musical to movie came with big risks, especially of the financial kind. The play was written by a white man named Lynn Root, produced by another white man named Arthur Freed and directed by yet another white man named Vincente Minnelli, ironic.
‘Little’ Joe Jackson has a bad gambling problem. This habit gets him into some serious trouble when temptation came knocking and he answered the door. Joe is shot and the doctor says that Joe may not make it. Whilst Joe is on his death bed Lucifer Jr. comes to visit him. I liked this scene. At first you see the candle flicker on on its own then the camera pans to a growing shadow with horns. I liked this because it was subtle like the devil himself is and it gave off an insidious vibe. Lucifer Jr. tells Joe that he’s come to take him to hell. Before Lucifer Jr. can make off with him an angel of the Lord appears and stops him. He tells Joe that due to Petunia’s strong prayers that he has a chance. They give him 6 more months to live and prove himself and change. But, there’s a catch; he won’t remember anything. So he has the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.
I must give major props to Ethel Waters for her portrayal of Petunia Jackson. Ethel Waters was born for this role. Petunia is written as warm and good in contrast to her on-screen husband, Joe. When we first meet Petunia we immediately get a sense of who she is and what she’s about. She is first seen dressed very modestly in church, all covered up. She then begins to sing the hymn proudly with a big smile on her face. You can feel this character through the screen. She is very warm and I enjoyed her screen time. Petunia’s love for and faith in God is a part of her character. She extends this love to her husband. One of my favorite scenes is when Joe awakens and Petunia is so over-joyed that she begins to sing to Joe. This is one of my favorites because it is so strongly reiterated just how much Petunia loves Joe. Of course the song she sings here is called ‘Happiness is a thing called Joe’ but I mean the way that she looked at him while singing was fantastic.
At the beginning the preacher and a fellow church goer have a conversation about Joe. “I heard he’s coming of his own free will.” “I’ll believe that when I see it.” This insinuates that prior to this occasion Petunia was dragging Joe to church, this further speaks to just how much she loves her husband. Although many would say that Joe is no good considering his non-Christian behavior. But, Petunia truly believed in him all the way and she never gave up and never stopped praying. Petunia, in my opinion, is a character to admire and look up to for these characteristics. At the same time Petunia is this imperfect character because towards the end we see her come to the same bar as Joe and she is dressed extravagantly, she demands Joe’s money and renounces him as her husband. This happens after she believes that Joe’s been unfaithful to her. This shows that even someone who seemed so holy before can fall prey to sin, especially if they are hurt the way that Petunia was. This makes us human; definitely not a good thing. But, Petunia Jackson just became more relatable to the audience.
Petunia and Joe have a great dynamic. When they go out to the park Petunia tells Joe of the cabin in the sky that’s waiting for them. You can see it in Joe’s eyes how much he loves his wife. It is during this time that we see how unsure of himself Joe is. When Petunia sings about heaven and this cabin Joe doesn’t look at Petunia. He looks out at the sky instead. To him this is a dream that he doesn’t think will come true. Petunia reassures him. As the songs goes on he begins to believe in himself and his smile widens because she gives him hope.
Joe may have been a troubled man but he did love Petunia. When he was supposed to be in church his gambling buddies go see him and tell him that if he wins this last game then he can get something nice for Petunia. Had they not brought her up Joe would have gone to church accordingly and we wouldn’t have much of a movie. After Joe awakens and becomes well again he has a really good streak and he refrains from sin. Keep in mind that he doesn’t remember the meeting with the angel and Lucifer Jr. but he does these things for Petunia. I do think that Joe is religious character but he lost hope in himself and is unsure but, if he can make Petunia happy then that’s good enough. When Petunia is shot and killed at the end I love Joe’s expression. I don’t love that he was sad but I love the way that he did that scene. The quiet and desperate “Petunia?” that comes from him as he looks only at his dying wife while the gun is still pointed at him.
One of my favorite scenes is during the “Consequences” song. Georgia Brown comes around to seduce Joe but he says no. This is major turn in his character. We saw earlier when he was supposed to be in church, he couldn’t say no and ended up getting hurt. This time he is thinking of the consequences of his actions, hence the name of the song. This once again is where we see how important Petunia is to Joe.
Georgia Brown. The devil’s favorite. Her entrance is much different from Petunia’s. When we get our first look at Georgia she isn’t even fully dressed. We get a look at where she lives and you can see that her room and it’s pretty and feminine and full of things. Lucifer Jr. directs her every move. He tells her to put on something nice and wear her best perfume to go seduce Joe. She is the polar opposite of Petunia. Georgia Brown uses her femininity in the bad way. She shows off her body and takes pride in all of her material things and she is a homewrecker. She is a classic example of a sinful person who came to Jesus. At the end she ends up being Joe’s saving grace. After Joe and Petunia die she rebukes her ways and gets saved and prays for Joe thus getting him into heaven.
I would lying if I said that I didn’t have a few criticisms for this film. I understand that this movie was made in the 40s and back then they couldn’t do a lot of what they do in films today. But, there were a lot of really cheesy points. When Lucifer Jr. first appeared at first it was a shadow, then he came into view and it was the stereotypical devil with horns. Except the horns were made from this guy’s afro… Then every time Lucifer Jr. appeared on screen he did this maniacal laugh and it was rather corny. Also keeping in mind that this was originally a play and most of the actors that appeared in the movie were apart of the original production some of the scenes were a bit over-acted in my opinion. The scene where Joe awakens to see Lucifer Jr. his reactions were over the top. His eyes widened so big and he basically acted like someone would have in a play.
This is a story about life and the power of prayer. For little Joe Jackson prayer changed everything for him. He was led into temptation and he entertained it for a long time until he met someone worth changing for. This story is one that should inspire and give hope to all us sinners. Joe thought that all hope for him was lost but, he found salvation. And so can you.
Thank you for reading,