Week Eight: Stormy Weather (1943)
Title: Stormy Weather
Tone: Classic musical extravaganza
Director-Andrew L. Stone
Cast- Lena Horne, Bill Robinson, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, The Nicholas Brothers
What: After fighting in WWI, Bill Williamson (Bill Robinson) tries to launch a career as a performer. This is loosely based on Bill Robinson’s real life experience of becoming an entertainer.
- After profiling two somber films in honor of Black History Month, I figured it’d be good to lighten the tone with a classic Hollywood musical featuring some of the greatest black entertainers of the 40s. The film includes performances by Lena Horne, Cab Calloway,Fats Waller, Ada Brown, The Nicholas Brothers, Katherine Dunham with her dance troupe, and more.
- Stormy Weather was a rare type of musical for its time as it had a primarily black cast and showcased the best black performers of the era, an era during which black performers rarely appeared in lead roles in Hollywood. Although the film is only 77 minutes long it features 20 musical numbers all featuring black entertainers.
- Although a significant milestone in the history of black cinema, Stormy Weather is not without its pitfalls. An unfortunate product of the times and a bi-product of the vaudeville circuit, Stormy Weather includes some deplorably stereotypical musical numbers, including an African themed dance in jungle garb and a minstrel show. These stereotypical musical numbers stand as a reminder of how far black performers have come and the hardships they faced (e.g. forced to play roles perpetuating black stereotypes, paid painfully low wages, and rarely, if ever, given top billing) Thankfully the majority of Stormy Weather strays from perpetuating stereotypes and simply showcases the immense talents of the performers.
- One of the highlights of Stormy Weather is the musical number for “Jumpin’ Jive” featuring Cab Calloway and The Nicholas Brothers. Fred Astaire referred to this musical number as the greatest movie musical sequence he’d ever seen. Furthermore ballet icon Mikhail Baryshnikov called The Nicholas Brothers the most amazing dancers he had ever seen in his life. The number is absolutely astounding and the Nicholas Brothers perform dance moves that I never imagined were physically possible. Below is a clip featuring the whole number, you must watch it in its entirety as their climactic dance moves are unreal. Enjoy!