A perfect way to spin some holiday cheer comes via this jammin’ platter of Busby Berkeley’s 1943 Technicolor swirlee THE GANG’S ALL HERE, available in a limited edition Blu-Ray from the folks at Twilight Time/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment.
It’s the Buzz’s first collision with the imbibition process, and he masters it in dazzling fashion, creating his trademark kaleidoscopic tableaus in mind-blowing Technicolor with help from the great cinematographer Edward Cronjager (Western Union, To the Shores of Tripoli, Heaven Can Wait, Canyon Passage). Of all the wonderful 1940s musicals, this one stands especially out because of the rainbow Berkeley touch (think pictorially of the Lubitsch touch with music and more legs): saucy, sexy imagery that baffles the imagination and (obviously) the censors. It’s as if pre-Code snarkily sneaked back into the wartime home front – and without protection.
While the picture technically stars the lovely singer/actress Alice Faye, the movie (Berkeley show pieces aside) is stolen by the character actors and supporting star Carmen Miranda, who, as Dorita, rumbas, sambas and effortlessly takes your breath away with hotcha moves and hilarious language malfunctions. It is her moment – the celluloid shrine that forever made her iconic in history (and Warner Bros. cartoons) with the crazy fruit-laden chapeaus, midriff frocks and Good Neighbor policy boogie-woogie-ing.
The movie, as is, even with a number of writers (a script by Walter Bullock, from a story by Nancy Wintner, George Root, Jr., and Tom Bridges) is lighter than a balsa-wood tongue depressor. It’s fluff about a triangular romance between an up-and-coming singer and a pampered sergeant on leave (who’s otherwise engaged to a likewise rich socialite as shallow as he is). Faye’s paramour is pushy, annoying James Ellison; her rival, Fox second-stringer Sheila Ryan. Suffice to say, there’s about as much chemistry between Faye and Ellison as there is between a corpse and a body bag; they seem to go together, but once it’s zipped up – who cares? Much more fun is to be had with costars Charlotte Greenwood and Phil Baker who perform a quasi-Apache dance from their former hot times in Paris during the 1920s. Greenwood is now a sedate suburban society dame (married to legal beagle Edward Everett Horton) and Ryan’s mother. When Baker’s show, along with Benny Goodman and his Orchestra, comes out to the posh ‘burbs to do a bond-raising drive among the 400, Greenwood literally gets to strut her stuff via her classic (and jaw-dropping) sidesplitting splits, (courtesy of the lady’s cartoon gams) gyrating with a teen jitterbugger, in a display that rivals Bette Davis’s turn in that same year’s Thank Your Lucky Stars. Staid Horton, business partner of groovy albeit ever-grumbling Eugene Pallette, isn’t too pleased until Carmen does her best to Mirandize him, plying him with booze (“I don’t touch alcohol,” he proudly announces. “Ya dunt touch it, ya drink it!” is the vixen’s logical reply). And, thus, twee-man becomes he-man in a sequence way more jolly than anything Faye and Ellison can offer up.
The numbers are socko, doing audible justice to the psychedelic visuals, and include a brilliant opening cover of “Brazil,” and continue on to a barrage of now-standards, mostly by Harry Warren and Leo Robin (“Paducah,” “No Love, No Nothin’,” “Soft Winds,” “Minnie’s in the Money” and Faye’s signature tune, “A Journey to a Star,” etc.). But, of course, the legend of THE GANG’S ALL HERE is Miranda and Berkeley’s evocation of “The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat,” performed by the talented senorita and a bevy of scantily-clad beauties shoving giant six-foot bananas between their legs. I venture that after the prerequisite Zanuck audition, this was probably a piece of cake.
Indeed, the movie opens like a firecracker, and keeps the momentum going for most of its 103-minute running time, only faltering when the key aforementioned triangle dominates the proceedings. Berkeley must have been as bored by these on-going histrionics as well (ditto Cronjager), because the unthinkable occurs for a major “A” production, let alone a precision-designed Busby Berkeley extravaganza. A little bit more than midway into the picture, a boom shadow mike dominates the left side of the frame for seemingly an eternity before it gets yanked away. Other than that, the Technicolor work is extraordinary, with Cronjager’s camera ethereally gliding through a nightclub stage about the size of Siberia and under, over, around and through every chorus girl in sight.
Even with the schmaltzy lovey-dovey sag, THE GANG’S ALL HERE is NEVER dull. And it peps up for the grand finale – comprising some more impossible compositions for the peepers to feast on, to say nothing of the spectacle of Pallette growling his way through a ditty that is likely to have musical fans consider post-GANG therapy.
The Twilight Time Blu-Ray is, for the most part, a terrific catch. While some parts exhibit a bit of grain and others looks a tad too contrasty, sufficient segments are right on the button and do represent the original Technicolor effect (I actually saw a 35MM IB print back in the 1970s; it remains one of that decade’s few unforgettable movie moments). Furthermore, Twilight Time has loaded up the package with a generous amount of tantalizing extras, including two separate audio commentaries (one featuring my pal Glenn Kenny), a Berkeley documentary featurette; We Still Are!, Alice Faye’s last pic; the theatrical trailer and, best of all, a deleted scene from the movie entitled The $64 Question. In keeping with Twilight Time tradition, the music/soundtrack is available as an IST. So, what’s there NOT to love?
The picture was Twentieth Century-Fox’s Yuletide gift to wartime audiences (it was released Christmas Eve, 1943) now becomes the same for 2016 classic movie fans. It’s a double-dose of history repeating itself, as GANG was a sure-fire escapist cure from the horrors of fascism. As it is now.
THE GANG’S ALL HERE. Color. Full frame [1.33:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 DTS-HD MA. Twilight Time/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment. CAT # TWILIGHT225-BR. SRP: $29.95.