The Perfect Stormy
Director Andrew L. Stone’s 40 years of moviemaking is chiefly remembered for two particular types of films: gripping, tightly-wound thrillers (Highway 301, The Steel Trap, Julie, Cry Terror!, The Last Voyage, The Password Is Courage) and cockeyed, extravagant composer biographies (The Great Victor Herbert, Song of Norway, 1972’s The Great Waltz). The Stone project that premiered 74 years ago today as a salutary, spirit-lifting antidote to the grinding burden of World War II is something altogether unique and significant. “An amazing and important movie with an all-black cast, Stormy Weather (1943) has just about every living black musical star in it so it will be studied by movie buffs for years,” Jay Robert Nash and Stanley Ralph Ross assert in The Motion Picture Guide. “Offering the grandest collection of African American talent ever assembled in a major Hollywood film, the musical is an archival treasure trove,” adds The Oxford Companion to the American Musical historian Thomas Hischak. Can a 78-minute assemblage of nonpareil performers executing 20 smart, sassy and soulful song-and/or-dance numbers be “important,” an “archival treasure trove” and flat-out entertaining at the same time? One never knows, do one, but when Fats Waller tickles the ivories and devilishly croons his signature Ain’t Misbehavin,’ one is disinclined to argue, one is. When the immortal Bill “Bojangles” Robinson gets to take the stage or hit the dance floor with his unparalleled grace and showmanship, you can’t give it anything but love, baby. When Cab Calloway and his barnstorming band wail about Geechy Joe or melodically mix up a Rhythm Cocktail, intoxication awaits. When sultry Ada Brown declares That Ain’t Right, Babe Wallace glories in both the Beale Street and Basin Street Blues and punctuates Dat, Dot, Dah, and Mae Johnson ruefully laments that I Lost My Sugar in Salt Lake City, you’ll empathize. Most triumphantly, at stage center, stands the radiant beauty and affecting voice of a star emerging before your eyes: that’s Lena Horne, who delivers the Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler title song in an emotionally affecting seven-and-a-half-minute sequence of consummate artistry, hands it off to the marvelous Katharine Dunham dance troupe, and wraps it up with the grace and gravity that made it her signature song from that moment forward. Making the movie one for the reference books, Calloway’s turbocharged Jumpin’ Jive brings on the Nicholas Brothers in an energetic, stage-spanning choreographic display that hasn’t been topped in 74 years. As the final number My, My, Ain’t That Somethin? brings the movie to an effervescent end, it might dawn on you – in that lyric’s sentiments – that you’ve just experienced an “important treasure trove.” For more behind-the-scenes details about Stormy Weather, try Stephanie Zackarek’s incisive and celebratory TCM.com consideration here: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/91511/Stormy-Weather/articles.html. To experience the film in shimmering 1080p from Twentieth Century Fox’s recent 4K restoration, spin Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray, found here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/28537/STORMY-WEATHER-1943/. From an “added treasure” perspective, Kritzerland’s limited-edition 2-CD soundtrack, including Bonus Tracks from the studio vault not included in the film, can be found here: http://kritzerland.com/stormy_weather.htm. There’s No Two Ways About Love…or Weather.