(On Cable TV, August 2019) Due to an unfortunate lengthy delay between first watching Stormy Weather and publishing this review, I’m cheating a bit here—I’ve seen the film about twice-and-a-half in the past two years, and I’m not going to pretend that this is a “first viewing” review. Simply put, I love Stormy Weather. It may not be as well known as other movies of the time, but it has something very distinct running for it: It’s one of the rare all-black films made by Hollywood studios in the 1940s, and it doesn’t hold back giving the star treatment to its lead performer Lena Horne. Given my enduring crush on the timelessly gorgeous Horne, it makes perfect sense that I’d like Stormy Weather as much as I did: She get the primary role (allowing her to show her acting talents far more than the walk-on singing performances she got in other musicals), it treated with reverence by the other characters, is shot in a luminous fashion by the best cinematographers that the studio could put on the project and she gets a few terrific numbers along the way (most notably the title song). But wait, because there’s so much more to Stormy Weather than a showcase for Horne: You have Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in a leading role, you have Cab Calloway showing everyone how it’s done, and as a perfect climax to the film you have an anthology-worthy dance performance from the Nicholas Brothers that’s worth seeing again and again. (Not less an authority than Fred Astaire famously called it the greatest movie musical number he had ever seen.) Less famously, you have plenty of dance and song numbers by talented black performers who have full license to be at their best. (One of the numbers features black performers doing blackface, which is the kind of thing that marks it as a product of its time, but also make for interesting reading.) The all-black cast shows a very different vision of life in 1943, and it’s immensely regrettable that only Cabin in the Sky (also 1943) would be made in the same style. As mentioned before, I’ve watched Stormy Weather two-and-a-half times already (up to five times for the Nicholas Brothers sequence) and it gets better every time. An utterly essential musical and one I don’t get tired of recommending.
(Third or fourth viewing, On Blu Ray, September 2018) There are good movies, great movies and special movies. The Blues Brothers is one of those special movies, capturing something that deserves to be passed on to new audiences a few decades later. It’s a comedy and a really good one at times (especially when it fully embraces its absurdity and unapologetically give more weight to laughs than believability), but its greatest strength remains the music and the musicians it captures. As a musical comedy, there isn’t a single dud in the entire soundtrack, and seeing some of the best R&B stars croon their tunes is like mainlining pure cinematic bliss … even for those viewers who don’t know much about blues. James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin … this is a time capsule of them at their finest, singing and dancing memorable pieces. As many of the film’s stars are no longer with us (in the past two years alone, we’ve lost Franklin, Carrie Fisher and Toys’r’Us), the film doesn’t feel sadder but stronger for preserving them in such great shape. I must have seen the film two or three times as a teenager and young adult, so much of the dialogue and sequences are hard-wired in my head, and it was sheer pleasure to run from one highlight to another—whereas other movies struggle to get one or two memorable scene, The Blue Brothers has roughly a dozen of them. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi hit career-high roles here, and the integration of non-actor famed musicians goes better than anyone would expect. If you haven’t seen The Blues Brothers, any day is the right time to do it. If you’ve already seen it, you already know that any time is the right time to see it again. What a classic.