practically no black films made by Hollywood studios until the late 1950’s; so
when 20th Century Fox decided to make “Stormy Weather” back in 1943, it
was a true novelty.
has been debate on whether the film (along with MGM’s “Cabin in the Sky,” directed by Vicente Minnelli) could be considered one of many “race” films of the period, considering that it has an all
black cast, they
were the only black films made during the 1940’s. But they both had the high gloss studio
sheen and production values that race films from that time sorely lacked, because
of their independent low budget origins.
storyline for “Weather” is pretty thin – basically chronicling a
very fictionalized version of the life of the legendary tap dancer Bill “Bojangles”
Robinson, playing himself, though he’s called Bill Williamson in the film. But the plot is simply a framework for the
superb dance and musical numbers in the
film. For a film that runs only a slight 80 minutes, it is jam packed with some
20 musical numbers, starring some of the best black talent of the period, including Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, choreographer
and dancer Katherine Dunham, and Fats Waller, among many others.
And I haven’t
even begun to mention the amazing Nicolas Brothers, Fayard and Harold, perhaps
the greatest dance team ever, and who stop the film with a spectacular and nearly physically impossible dance routine
that never fails to bring down the house, and bring the audience to their feet.
made the song “Stormy Weather” one of Horne’s most enduring hits, which she was associated
with it for the rest of life. Although the song was written some 10 years
earlier and was first sung by Ethel Waters in a revue at the Cotton Club in Harlem.
years after its release, the film was pretty much forgotten, until sometime in
the mid-70’s, when it was re-discovered primarily by the black audience, overwhelmed with all the phenomenal talent involved in it. It was shown occasionally on TV and even in art house revival theaters.
to its period, the film does have its share of stereotypes and buffoonery, which
was common for that time, but it has continued in popularity. Back in 2001, it
was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, by
the Library of Congress as being “culturally,
historically, or aesthetically significant.”
So last week, Twilight Time announced that they will be releasing, for the first time, a
restored and remastered blu-ray DVD of “Stormy Weather” on Feb 10, the same day
they will also be releasing Sidney Poitier’s “To Sir, With Love” which I wrote
about the other day (HERE).
The film is
a joy. Fast, bright and it breezes though its running time in a flash. And when
you look at all the extraordinary talent on display, you might have
to wonder why they make a fuss about certain “artists” that people today think are so talented and special.
this fantastic clip from the movie with Cab Calloway, and perhaps every black
professional dancer Fox could find in Hollywood, gleaming in their “zoot suits with the reet pleats.”