Stormy Weather (1943)(B&W)
Forget about Fred Astaire. Forget about Gene Kelly. If it\'s dance you\'re in the mood for, look no farther than Stormy Weather. Made in the middle of World War II, when the armed services and much of the United States were still segregated and the Civil Rights Movement was only a glimmer, this is the rare mainstream Hollywood movie to feature an all-star cast of African-Americans. At the time of its 1943 release, Thomas M. Pryor writing in the New York Times called it \"a first-rate show, just the kind of spirited divertissement that will make you forget all about your own momentary weather troubles.\" Sixty-three years later, in its inaugural Fox DVD release, it is not without its problems, but Pryor\'s initial judgment is still sound.
Celebrating some of the brightest talents of the era, the movie exists more as a potpourri than a story. The thin plot is built on the memories of dancer, Bill Williamson (tap great Bill \"Bojangles\" Robinson), who relates the story of his life in show business to a group of neighborhood children. A World War I veteran, he worked on barges on the Mississippi before embarking seriously on his career, first at a Memphis speakeasy, along the lines of piano great Fats Waller and singer Ada Brown, before moving on to the stage and, finally, to Hollywood. Along the way, he falls in love with singer Selina Rogers (Lena Horne), whose ambition conspires to keep them apart. As Bill talks to the children and demonstrates a few steps for them, singing great Cab Calloway arrives to invite Bill to take part in a show for servicemen about to ship out, making way for the movie\'s deluxe grand finale.
The story is thin, but not without interest, particularly in the way Selina worries over what will happen to her career should she give in to her feelings and marry Bill, making a feminist argument decades before the women\'s liberation movement. Individual characters and setups can be problematic as even in a movie meant to celebrate African-American talent, stereotypes still abound. But all of that plays second fiddle to the performances.
There are plenty of great vocal performances: Calloway ripping it up on \"Geechy Joe\" and \"The Jumpin\' Jive\"; Waller performing his signature tune, \"Ain\'t Misbehavin\',\" and sharing a duet of \"That Ain\'t Right\" with Brown; and the fabulous Horne, lending her interpretation to a handful of songs, including a heartfelt rendition of the title tune. Robinson gives a clinic in the art of tap, and then graciously leaves the finale to a pair of up-and-comers, the incomparable Nicholas Brothers, Harold and Fayard. Their gravity-defying, acrobatic hoofing among Calloway\'s band and on a staircase to the \"The Jumpin\' Jive\" has to be seen to be believed. It\'s one of the most electrifying dance numbers ever committed to film.