Stormy Weather (1943)
The rags-to-riches storyline is mere pretext for the musical numbers but oh my stars and garters, what musical numbers.
Reviewed by Sam Hurwitt, Fri., Dec. 27, 2002
STORMY WEATHER (1943)
D: Andrew L. Stone; with Lena Horne, Bill Robinson, Cab Calloway, Katherine Dunham, Fats Waller, Dooley Wilson.
In what has got to be the greatest all-black movie musical up to and including The Wiz, 65-year-old vaudeville legend Bill "Bojangles" Robinson plays a WWI vet and soft-shoe shuffler (mis)matched with dazzling Lena Horne (26 at the time) in a love story you would miss if you were in the habit of blinking, and you wouldn't have missed much. The rags-to-riches storyline is mere pretext for the musical numbers -- but oh my stars and garters, what musical numbers. You don't just get the usual show tunes here; you get red-hot jazz performances by unrivaled masters Fats Waller, Ada Brown, Cab Calloway, and a number of relative unknowns (and uncrediteds) including powerful singer Mae E. Johnson, the hilarious Tramp Band, and dancer Ernest Whitman. And you get the big production numbers, too: Busby Berkeley-esque fantasies featuring outlandish costumes and dancer Katherine Dunham and her troupe, as well as a breathtaking, athletic display of tap virtuosity by the Nicholas Brothers. Robinson -- unfortunately best remembered today for dancing with Shirley Temple -- comes off as a little stiff among this heady company, but he projects such warmth that you don't mind a bit. Horne proves as stunning a movie star as she is a singer, and Dooley Wilson (Sam from Casablanca) provides admirable comic relief -- not that there's anything here from which you could possibly want relief. Watching Waller belting out "Ain't Misbehavin'" as his fingers dance on the keys, the Nicholas Brothers leaping over each other into the splits, Calloway scatting "The Jumpin' Jive" -- all that would be a relief even from the daily grind behind the pearly gates.