Twilight Time Blu-Ray: Stormy Weather (1943)

Stormy Weather (1943)

Blu-Ray Company: Twilight Time

Starring: Bill Robinson, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Katherine Dunham, Fats Waller, The Nicholas Brothers, Ada Brown, Dooley Wilson, The Tramp Band, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Horace, Mae E. Johnson, Johnny Lee

Plot: The relationship between an aspiring dancer and a popular songstress provides a retrospective of the great African American entertainers of the early 1900s.

My Review and Thoughts:

Film: 4.5/5

Here's another one of those forgotten classics of the olden days. One of those films that seem to have been lost, definitely to this modern generation. To the ones that grew up with the classics, this is one of those must-see gems that define great movies.

Thankfully there are companies like Twilight Time that give an outlet to these films overlooked by today's mainstream. Stormy Weather is a golden ticket of beauty, and mastery, in story and direction, but most of all, in the extraordinary performances in acting excellence.

This 1943 golden spectacle and musical is an African-American pioneering piece of cinema, that needs to be seen, needs to be showcased, and talked about. This is highly recommended by me. This is, one of those films that showcases all the majesty of black entertainment performers, of the time period.

I should only have to say the name Bill Bojangles Robinson and Lena Horne, and you should know who these two are. Sadly, that is not the case anymore, and that's a true tragedy that breaks my heart. If there ever was, two entertainment performers, that could, truly become, and be defined as the essence of becoming the term, "masterpiece", then it would be Lena and Bill. Lena goes on that category, with the likes of, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Ingrid Bergman, Meryl Streep and others. She was a true beauty in all ways of entertainment. A true entertainer that could transcend the barrier of race. She was neither solid white, nor solid black, if that means anything, or has any relevance, which it does not to me. She was stuck in the idea of the time. We're race was a subject, such a touchy reality, such a dark stain on history; the movie world was no different. If anything, the movie world was more racist, then the public. So many years of production in the entertainment world is stained with mockery, and hatred, and believe it or not, it still is, used today. During the time when Lena graced the screen with her beauty, and her amazing, brilliant art, it was a rough time in history. Stereotypes we're still played. Politically incorrect reality was the landscape to most cinema. Lena Horne was the very breathing essence of stardom. Beautiful and stunning in grace, and had a voice of a golden reality, that could blow you away. Stormy Weather, is one of her defining performances. One of her defining movies.

This is directed, acted and structured together in a complete way that I personally think should be honored, with the term, entertaining masterpiece. This is one of those films that should be looked at, as a film that is a pivotal piece of, American cinema. To me, this is a film that should be looked at as a picture that is a part of history. I think what needs to be said about this, is you have to realize this was 1943. This was before Martin Luther King Jr., before Medgar Evers. This was before, the civil rights movement. Before Rosa Park refused to move. This was before blacks could vote. This was still during a time when lynching’s where happening in the South. For a film starring a cast of African Americans and mixed race, and to express itself to the world, was a defining reality, and an ultimate part of the changing times to come.

This film had some of the pioneers of African-American entertainers, one being the real star and subject to the film Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Bill to me is someone that if, entertainment, or the idea of show business was defined as a living person, or could be chosen as the very basis of entertainment, it would be Bill Bojangles. He was a tap dancing master, artist, actor and at one time, one of the highest paid African-Americans in show business.

The reality of Bill, was that he was able to be sought after in both white entertainment, and black. He was able to take his craftsmanship of being such a performer, and entertainer, that everybody wanted him. I suppose it's his history of dancing with Miss Shirley Temple throughout many pictures, and appearances alongside each other, that most people will remember him for. I think Bill was beyond, just the basic dancing, and had all the more quality to be, so much more than the token black guy in a white film. If you ever watch a film with Bill in it, whether he's alongside Shirley Temple, or some other actor in a white film, I believe he owned the film. The film seemed too stop, and become all Bill. He was able to own the camera and the direction. The camera showcased, the brilliance, and beauty, and pioneering ways of Bill, when he came on screen.

Now most agree, that Stormy Weather is basically a somewhat, loosely biographical film on Bill's life. He plays the character Bill Williamson. The character tells his story, and you flash back into the past, and experience everything about his life, and the many ordeals and experiences. Another amazing thing about Stormy Weather is, this was during a time when very few, lead parts showcased blacks. Most African-Americans in films, were the one being made fun of, the butler, the maid, the ignorant one, the person in the minstrel show, farmhand, chauffeur, and sadly, the slave character. So you have to realize, how magical, and emotionally charged this film probably was at the time it came out.

Looking back on it today, you see the brilliance, and the ability in that it’s historical. To showcase black leading characters, in a dramatic, and important character driven atmosphere, should show you just how this film is a pioneering piece of cinema. It's a film that gathered, some of the greatest, and finest black entertainers of the time period.

Now as I have stated, this is loosely based on Bills real life. The movie showcases Bill, after fighting during World War I, comes home and pursues, and hopes to be an entertainer. This is when he meets the character, Selina Rogers, played by the wonderful Lena Horne. Now in real life, we know this character did not exist. The character is created for the story, hint the loosely based plot.

On a side-note, I have to applaud the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress because in 2001, Stormy Weather was chosen to be preserved. The National Film Registry said it was "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." It is that, and all the more. To look at this film and see the entertaining art-form it showcases throughout, to me feels personal, and emotional at the same time. I am from the South and grew up around certain members of my family that where sadly and disgustingly a part of the KKK and so, there is a side of me that expresses the sadness of knowing, that the human race can destroy and look down upon another, for just their skin color; it makes me sick. It's all the more touching to see this film in that my Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather, was, sadly a slave. Living in Tennessee, more or less, the blood line is going to have some African blood in it. Many slave women were raped, and forced into sexual activity. Not in my family’s case, it was a relationship, a defining relationship for the time period. My Great, Great, Great, Great Grandmother Abbey loved a young man who was a slave, and if it was not, for their love, I would not be here, many years later writing this. My point is, when I see amazing films like this, that showcases pioneering African American performers, and the many styles of art they create, it's a touching reality, in knowing how so many before, and during their time, had been mistreated or murdered. 

Also something that is amazing about this film, is not only the actors, and the story itself, but this movie is only 77 minutes, and yet it's jammed packed with pure entertainment. One musical number after musical number. There are more than 20 performances in this short 77 minute film.

Like I have stated this is jam packed with one African-American entertainer after the other. Just mentioning a few, the extraordinary Cab Calloway who is the true one of kind Jazz, blues, swing bandleader and vocalist is awesome to see. The one and only pianist and singer Fats Wallet; lord can he play. The Nicholas Brothers, two amazing dancers that have to be seen to be fathomed because describing them is a disservice to their memory and art-form. And last, that I want to mention is the very goddess, and unbelievable, God of blues, the beautiful, Ada Brown; what a voice and what talent.

This was adapted for film by Frederick J. Jackson, Ted Koehler and H.S. Kraft. The story itself was created by Jerry Horwin and Seymour B Robinson. Frederick J. Jackson was one of the big wig writers of screenplays from 1912 to 1946. He helped create over 50 films from that period. He was a true American Playwright and screenwriter that crafted his excellence in so many wonderful ways in cinema. I think besides Stormy Weather, he helped create such greats like 1917’s The Fatal Ring, 1924’s amazing Arizona Express, which I highly recommend. I also recommend you check out the 1938, Say It in French. A great comedy and something to truly be remembered in the cinema world, starring the great Ray Milland. Next I have to mention, Ted Koehler’s brilliance to the film Stormy Weather. Ted was one of the greatest lyricist to ever grace the cinema world. Now Ted was the one who wrote and created alongside his musical partner, Harold Arlen, the famous song that is the title of the movie and the very song of importance that is performed in the film, “Stormy Weather”.  He was along with his partner, someone that new the world of music and crafted that deep atmosphere of knowing important lyrics that would make a statement or at least grab the one watching and make you listen. Thankfully, and if anyone ever deserved the title, Ted Koehler does, was inducted in the songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972. All one has to do is look at his credits in famous written songs. Not only Stormy Weather, but such greats like, “When the Sun Comes Out”, “Let’s Fall in Love”, “Get Happy”, “As Long as I Live”, and the very popular one of a kind, “Animal Crackers in My Soup”, sang most famously by Shirley Temple. Hyman Solomon Kraft, was also involved in adapting the story, Stormy Weather to the cinema world. Kraft is most known for creating comedies throughout his career. Most famous would be, the 1952 laugh out funny, “Top Banana”, starring the great one of a kind, Phil Silvers. For some reason, sadly Kraft was uncredited in certain films he had a part in making, such as, 1935’s Mark of the Vampire, starring the cinema legends Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi.

Sadly Mr. Bill Bojangles died in 1949, but not without leaving an amazing career of performances and pure entertainment, bringing the smiles and excitement to many folks that got to see him. Thankfully its movies like, Stormy Weather, and all the others, that we get to experience, his amazing talent. This was Bill's last movie, he acted in.

It's a film that should never be forgotten, and in my viewpoint, should always be recognized as being, a culturally sound piece of entertainment. The film that brought so much to the masses, so much of the message, leading in a pioneering set up of, race and the beauty and passionate skills, of African American entertainers.

Thankfully, Twilight Time Blu-Ray has lovingly given this film a Blu-ray outlet. They have given this artistic entertaining film to a new generation of film lovers, of lovers of history of cinema, and the pioneering films of race and culture. Stormy Weather, is one of those films that is significantly sound in a, historical setting. It showcases and gives us, a piece of a time period that should never be forgotten.

Audio: 4/5

This is what every company out there, should try and duplicate. Twilight Time has such a wonderful way, and example, in creating great products, and Stormy Weather is that prime example, in audio form. This is an old film and has aged in video and audio, but thankfully this film has been cleaned, and the audio has been tweaked. Nitpicking might happen by others, but not me. I think comparing this to all the other outlets that this film, has come out on, this product is, "Pure ear candy at its sweetest". Absolutely loved, listening to this film. All the performances are golden, and the sound quality gives them a new light of day.

Never have I heard, this movie so crisp, and worthy to be talked about.

English: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Music: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles: English

Video: 4.5/5

Another example of what to do in giving a new outlet to an old film. Yes this is an old film and has aged. But this Blu-ray aces, in creating a nice new and pristine example of high quality in restoration. I am one not to nitpick, little spots, because that would be asinine in doing so, because this has never looked so good and beautiful. After seeing all the other examples of this film from VHS, DVD and TV, my southern roots says: "they ain't got nothin on this".

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Original aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Extras: 3/5

You get a wonderful audio commentary with Professor of critical Studies at U.S.C. Dr. Todd Boyd. I really loved this commentary because he digs deep into the reality of what it was like for blacks, acting in cinema of the time period and how they were portrayed, and even in this film with certain stereo-types and bigoted racial moments. I think this is one of the best historical commentary’s I have ever heard. I applaud Twilight Time for getting Dr. Todd Boyd to do this. It was truly a great listen and very educational in the cinema department of history and cultural views of blacks in cinema.

Like most always, you get the wonderful isolated score track. Really loved listening to this and as always is a plus to own this special feature.

Also a booklet by the wonderful film historian Julie Kirgo. Always is a treat to read these little booklets of history on the film.

Overall: 4.5/5

One cannot go into this without wanting to be entertained. This is pure entertainment at its best. The many performances throughout, mixed with the drama, and acting, give a true landmark of old school cinema. After watching this film, you can’t help but remember everything about it. The performance by the Nicholas Brothers in the skit, Jumping Jive, is by far one of the best experiences of entertainment around. All that where involved in this film, are true entertaining pioneers that should always be remembered.

Sadly, yes this film still has the moments, or at least the remnants of the racist concept of Minstrel shows, but this film transcends that hatred, and gives to the world the talent, that so many wonderful African American’s of the time period had.

Brilliant, beautiful, stunning and most of all important. This shines in the high quality that only Twilight Time has mastered. They gave an outlet to a masterpiece of pioneering cinema of the olden days, where sadly, race was a major factor in white man's cinema. I feel this is a must own Blu-ray, and anyone that collects examples of great cinema, then Stormy Weather is one of them. Also the Blu-ray by Twilight Time itself, is another way of showcasing this film, as important, and a top quality product, and of an outlet, that should be given to important pieces of cinema.


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