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Chronic gambler and carouser "Little" Joe Jackson is shot by Domino Johnson at Jim Henry's gambling club over an outstanding gambling debt. Little Joe's wife, the God-fearing Petunia Jackson, prays not only for her husband's mortal life, but also his eternal soul as she's afraid that if he dies now, he, despite not being an evil man, won't make it into heaven. As Little Joe is close to death, he is visited by agents of both the Lord and of Lucifer. They make a deal with him: they will give him six months to atone for the errors of his human life. Once back on Earth, he won't remember the deal but both the Lord and Lucifer will be watching over him, trying to get him to see things their way. As both sides try to get Little Joe's soul, they figure that some of the most powerful tools they have at their disposal are the women in Little Joe's life: Petunia on behalf of the Lord, and Georgia Brown, a gold-digging floozy, on behalf of Lucifer. As hard as both the Lord and Lucifer try to get... Written by
During filming, the movie's black stars were told by the studio manager that they were not allowed to eat at the MGM commissary. When the studio head, Louis B Mayer, heard about this slight, he invited the black performers to join him instead in his private dining room. All the performers were allowed to eat in the commissary the following day. (Source: Aljean Harmetz, "The Making of the Wizard of Oz," 1977.) See more »
During the nightclub fight between Domino Johnson and Little Joe, the gunshot he fires accidentally hits Petunia. She falls down on the steps of the staircase, where she drapes her right arm twice over the side. See more »
I just watched this on DVD and found myself more amused than anything by the disclaimer at the front that warns viewers that it was made in racist times and should be regarded as a historical artifact. Are they kidding? Even by the standards of today, the movie is extremely sympathetic and affectionate toward its subjects. Compare this with the Chris Rock movie "Head of State" and then try to judge how much genuine progress has been made since 1943. Many films from the first half of the 20th century were vastly more racist in tone and attitude than this one. "Birth of a Nation" this ain't. So the people in the movie gamble and fight and screw around? Who doesn't? I watched "Dead End" last week, and the thuggish white kids in that were portrayed in a much less appealing manner than the cast here.
Some gripe that the script is a little rudimentary and the acting uneven and un-nuanced. It's a little heavy on sentimentality and slow in spots. But it's a musical. You could say the same of any of the Andy Hardy movies or even many Astaire and Rogers pictures.
On the plus side, the cast is utterly stupendous. It's only a shame that Minelli couldn't shoehorn in a few more spotlight moments for all the talent that was on hand. Unlike one of the other commenters, I very much enjoyed the performances of Waters and Anderson, neither of whom I was especially familiar with previously. Bubbles of "Buck and Bubbles" was riveting for his few minutes on screen. Horne is cute as hell. Would have loved to see more of Ellington and Armstrong.
I did get the impression that Waters was holding back at times for the sake of a screen performance. She begins to let loose vocally during the dance scene in the kitchen, and Anderson humorously reins her in, seemingly making a joke of the fact that they've been told to make their performances a bit more staid for the benefit of conservative audiences in the hinterlands.
Worth seeing as just plain old entertainment, never mind the "historical interest." If you can't see its good points, it may have more to do with being unfamiliar with the idioms and conventions of the era than with any major intrinsic deficits in what's on offer.
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