Sunday, September 12, 2010
This movie was released later in the same year (1943) as Cabin In The Sky, which was a story with music. Stormy Weather (SW), on the other hand, is a big budget Hollywood style musical with a story. The plot of SW is based loosely on the real life of the star of the movie, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.
SW is told in flashback style as Bill receives a copy of "Theatre World." in the mail and reminisces with some neighborhood children about his life. The movie first takes us back to Bill returning with his unit from WWI. Bill and his buddy Dooley Wilson go out for a night of celebrating where he meets Lena Horne and we hear her sing "There's No Two Ways About It". Lena wants Bill to stay on in New York and become a dancer, but he doesn't think he's good enough and tells her he wants to make something of himself first.
Bill and Dooley are working their way to Memphis on a riverboat and when Bill hears a minstrel band playing "Linda Brown", he joins in with some dancing . The band encourages him to seek a job on Beale Street in Memphis as a dancer. Bill gets a job at a club, but when someone is out sick, he winds up having to wait tables. At the club we get my favorite performance in the movie when Ada Brown and Fats Waller sing "That Ain't Right". Lena shows up to check out Fats for a show that she is going to be in and Fats sings "Ain't Misbehavin'". Although Lena doesn't recognize that Bill is the waiter, once she does, she insists that he be put into the big show in Chicago.
In Chicago we get our first big production number with Lena singing "Diga Diga Doo", which is followed by Babe Wallace singing "African Dance" as Bill upstages him in the background dancing on the African drums; of course, this gets Bill fired. We find Bill later, still in Chicago, putting on his own show. His show is in danger of being canceled because he can't pay his performers. Luckily, he runs into his old friend Dooley who cons the performers into putting on the show. At the rehearsal, Mae E. Johnson sings a really cool song called "I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City". Even though Dooley's flim-flam gets discovered, everyone eventually agrees to wait for their pay until after the show.
Bill's show includes the second of three big production numbers in SW as Bill and Lena sing "I Can't Give You Anything But Love". After the show, Bill tells Lena he has a Hollywood contract and he wants her to stay home and he will be the family provider. Lena won't hear any of this, she's an entertainer and not interested in domestic life. SW returns to Bill and the kids with Bill's old friend Cab Calloway stopping by for a visit.
Bill finds that Cab is putting on a big show for soldiers leaving for the war and he readily agrees to take part. The rest of the movie is the big show with Cab Calloway singing "Geechy Joe" followed by Lena in the last and largest production number in the movie built around her singing "Stormy Weather". The show closes out with Lena, Bill and Cab singing "There's No Two Ways About Love", Bill singing "My, My, Ain't That Somethin'" and Cab Calloway perfroming "The Jumpin' Jive" as The Nicholas Brothers do one more fantastic dance number.
Since SW and Cabin In The Sky were both released in the same year, I can't help but compare the two movies. I thought Lena Horne was overshadowed by Ethel Waters in Cabin, but in SW, even though the movie is built around the life of Bill Robinson, there's no doubt that Lena is the real star. Over and over again, I have seen Cabin cited for racist stereotypes (of which I found very little), but no one seems to mind the overt racist images (of which I found numerous) in SW. It appears that since SW is in the form of a big musical instead of a story with music, that it gets a pass on its racism. If you like big 1940s Hollywood Musicals, Stormy Weather will be sure to please you. If, like myself, you prefer a well crafted story with music, I would recommend watching Cabin In The Sky.