- Fox’s response to MGM’s CABIN IN THE SKY (1943).
- Loosely based on star Bill Robinson’s real life.
- Directed by Andrew Stone.
- This appears to be a flashback movie. Sigh.
- To begin the movie, a cute little girl runs to the mailbox, drops three-quarters of the mailbox’s contents on the ground, but manages to hold onto a large magazine that says “Celebrating the Magnificent Contribution of the Colored Race to the Entertainment of the World During the Past Twenty-Five Years.”
- “Uncle Bill, Uncle Bill!” the maildropper yells. “What does it say?”
- Uncle Bill (Robinson – though his fictional last name in this is Williamson) takes this to be a wonderful opportunity to tell the story of his life to the group of 5 neighborhood children that have gathered in a circle around him.
- Once upon a time, Uncle Bill was a member of Jim Europe’s 15th Infantry Band, recently back from France.
- Out at a dancing club, Bill is introduced to “Clem’s sister.” (Who the hell is “Clem,” you ask? Well, we don’t really know exactly – but it can be ascertained that he was a member of Bill’s infantry unit, killed back in France.) Bill gives Selina (Lena Horne) (boy, did they get creative with names in this one) a medal that belonged to Clem, and neither of them seem sad enough.
- Anyhow, Gabe (“Clem’s other buddy,” played by Dooley Wilson) is also there, and he’s got himself a spendthrift date who volunteers his money away to buy like…12 gardenias & several bottles of champagne.
- Lena’s outfit is gorgeous – her gown & jewelry are on point – but man…her hat. Her hat looks like a raven (with a fat, tubby body cloaked in silver) got exploded with a firecracker.
(This might sound like a bizarre way to describe a hat – but trust me, if you saw a picture of it, you’d be like, ‘Dude – you fucking nailed it.’) (Edit: See above!!!)
- The steamboat music/dance number (when Bill & Gabe are on their way to Memphis) is fantastic.
- These music numbers are so much more listenable than the all-White-cast musical numbers. Like…I would listen to all of these songs, independent of the movie, and that is hardly EVER true of the all-White musicals of this same era.
(Can you imagine pulling up “Pettin’ in the Park” (GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933) on your iPod? Jesus Christ.)
- Oh, what a coincidence – Chick Bailey (Emmett Wallace) & Selina just happen to stroll into the same club Bill is currently connected to in Memphis. Great news, though! The exploded raven part of Lena’s hat has disappeared! Now her hat is just gold & classy. (No, I have no way of knowing whether her hat is gold or not – the movie is shot in black & white. Shut up. It’s just a theory.)
- Okay – I partially take back what I said about the music. I would not listen to “Digadoo” (a song sung by Lena, surrounded by girls dressed as sparkly zebras) independent of this movie. Just to be clear.
- Ooooh. Chick’s kinda a meanie. He agreed to let Bill into the show as a backup dancer – but when Bill asks Selina if she wants to grab a sandwich after the show – Chick’s like, “I don’t want you seen in any of those cheap lunchrooms.”
What a poop!
- Bill gets his revenge, though, by doing an awesome tap number behind Chick during one of the shows, & totally upstaging the dude.
(Bill gets fired for this, of course – but then he punches Chick in the face & takes Selina out for the damn sandwich anyway, and it’s badass.)
- Bill heads back to New York to put on a show. He needs $560 to pay the chorus girls, though – otherwise the show’s gonna close.
Gabe: Well, buddy! If that’s all that’s worryin’ you – your worries is over.
Bill: Do you mean to tell me you’ve got $560?
Gabe: No. I ain’t got 560 cents. But I’ve got an idea!
(Oh, GABE! Such a joker.)
- There’s this moment when Selina walks in (while Gabe is pretending to be a wealthy potential backer of the show) (of course), & Selina starts laughingly talking (in earshot of the cast & crew) about all the times in the past when Gabe lied about things & pretended to be things he wasn’t…and she turns to Bill for validation, and Bill’s like, “HA HA HA HA. YES.” and it’s hilarious. Fantastic delivery by Robinson.
- The falling-apart-car comedy routine featuring (F.E.) Miller & Johnny Lee (playing Aubrey Lyles, who died in 1932) is A+.
- Lena Horne & Bill Robinson are great in the “I Can’t Give You Anything” number. Also, the dresses in that scene are exquisite.
(The only thing it’s missing is a couple of leopards.)
(“‘He’s three years old, gentle as a kitten, and likes dogs.’ I wonder whether Mark means that he eats dogs or is fond of them?” — BRINGING UP BABY (1938))
- Wah! Bill wanted to settle down & even had a house drawn up – but Selina wanted to keep on travel-singing forever, so they broke up. Sad times.
- Once upon a time, in a non-flashback world…Cab Calloway drives up to Uncle Bill’s house & is like, “Hey, kids!” He’s in town for the night, throwing a big party for the soldiers, and he wants Uncle Bill to be a part of it.
“Anything for the soldiers!” says (former soldier) Bill.
Clem would be proud.
(I mean…I guess. I still don’t really know who the fuck Clem is.)
- Oof. Lena Horne singing “Stormy Weather” in front of that wind-blowy window in her classy black dress. All kinds of perfect, y’all. Wow.
- The number that follows – with Katherine Dunham and her dancers – is also transfixingly gorgeous. The whole thing looks way more modern in style than you’d expect for 1943 – it’s pretty damn awesome.
- Hooray! Bill closes Cab Calloway’s “Party for the Soldiers,” and he & Selina get back together, right on cue!
- Oh, also – the Nicholas Brothers (the two tappers who appear in a number at the end) are crazy talented. I want to make sure that’s noted somewhere. (They jump down a flight of stairs, doing the splits on each step, then get up & keep dancing like it’s nothing! It made my mouth drop open!)
(If you don’t plan to watch this movie – at least do yourself a favor & search “Nicholas Brothers Stormy Weather” on YouTube. You won’t be disappointed.)
- I really enjoyed this one, guys. I’d for sure watch it again. 4 out of 5 stars!
(No, I know I don’t assign star ratings to movies. But like…I just wanted to, this time.)
Woohoo! 4 stars!