|The Gang’s All Here (1943)
Run time: 103 min
Genres: Comedy | Musical | Romance
Director: Busby Berkeley
Writers: Walter Bullock, Nancy Wintner
Stars: Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda, Phil Baker
A dazzling musical treat that is a proud entry in the Camp Hall of Fame. Forget the plot–about a guy going off to war and having two fiancée’s(!)–it’s just there as an excuse for sumptuous production numbers. Even Benny Goodman sings!
Release Date: 24 December 1943 (USA)
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Something between a fever-dream and a screwball comedy, THE GANG’S ALL HERE is the Fox Musical at its most extravagant. With everthing from Charlotte Greenwood doing her trademarked high-kick routine to Carmen Miranda in a ten-story banana headdress, there’s never a dull moment (that might let you concentrate too closely on the plot, which can most charitably be described as serviceable). The picture is a carnival of character bits, ridiculous shtick, and mind-boggling transitions. Edward Everett Horton gets covered with Carmen’s lipstick and claims it’s ketchup — "Yes, and from a Brazilian tomato!" ripostes his wife (Greenwood, who really is terrific here). Eugene Pallette growls "Don’t be a square from Delaware!" when he wants his pal Horton to get hep and join in the latest dance sensation. A New York nightclub has a stage large enough for what looks like all of a tropical island (for Carmen’s immortal "Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat" number, truly a Freudian nightmare), and a number set in a Westchester backyard features more trick fountains than two Esther Williams epics.
In the end, it all just stops, with a 30-second plot resolution ("oh, yes, didn’t I tell you? He’s loved you all along!" or some such) in order to make room for the finale, the most dizzying number yet: a paean to the polka-dot (featuring Alice Faye’s most effortful emoting ever on the line "…But the Polka Dot…Lives…On!") that segues into a ballet featuring neon hoops, vast rolling dots, kaleidoscopic trick photography, and, finally, an endearingly primitive blue-curtain effect that shows the heads of all the principals (and hundreds of chorus girls) bouncing along to a reprise of the hit ballad "A Journey to a Star." Well, THE GANG’S ALL HERE may not be quite that, but it’s certainly a journey into a different era in filmmaking.
"The Gang’s All Here" is just pure entertainment in the old-school musical style (before Oklahoma!). There’s essentially no plot, and what story there is, is full of plot-holes. It’s propaganda dressed up in a musical. Don’t get negative about this; music and dancing predominate and, of course, the cause is good. Made during WWII it almost subliminally reinforces home front practices during wartime, such as buying war bonds, and staying true to your man in uniform. A lot of this is probably lost to most viewers fifty years later. But think about it, and remember that when this movie was made, the Allied victory was not a sure thing.
And what about the music and dancing? Carmen Miranda in her tutti-frutti hat. Benny Goodman’s swing band. Alice Faye. Busby Berkeley. If these people mean any thing to you, they are here in fine form.
I’ll get to the plot of "The Gang’s All Here" in a minute, because the plot isn’t the most memorable part of this movie. The most memorable part is the bananas.
About 20 minutes into the movie, a towering hat of Technicolor fruit appears on the screen, followed by its owner–’40s "Brazilian bombshell" Carmen Miranda. She proceeds to do a number called "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat," accompanied by chorus girls who bear bananas. Six-foot-tall bananas that continuously droop and sprout until number’s end, when the chorus girls, worn out by the burden of this mutated fruit, lay down for a long siesta on a stage dressed up like an island.
There’s a reason this number occurs so early on: It takes you the rest of the movie to convince yourself you actually saw this in a 1943 movie.
But then, this is Busby Berkeley, a director who staged his musical numbers as though he was declaring war. And next to kitsch, war is pretty much the motivator here.
The wafer-thin story involves Andy (James Ellison), a soldier who woos and wins Edie (Alice Faye), a canteen dancer, the night before Andy goes off to World War Two. In what seems an instant, Andy gets decorated and returned home to a victory party thrown by the family of Andy’s childhood sweetheart and fiancee–who, unfortunately for Edie, is not Edie.
Will the heartbreak be resolved? Do you really care? The plot is mostly an excuse for some snappy repartee between major ’40s stars (in particular, Eugene Pallette and Edward Everett Horton are hilarious), and the kind of musical numbers that seem to drop out of thin air. (In a couple of scenes, Benny Goodman and his orchestra stroll by and do some songs just for the heck of it.)
"The Gang’s All Here" is really a 1943 time capsule, but an eye-popping rouser of one. They don’t make ’em like this anymore. They didn’t make ’em much like this back then, either. It’s not out on video or DVD, so look for its sporadic broadcasts on cable TV.
20th Century Fox pulled out all the stops for this Technicolor musical, "The Gang’s All Here," directed by Busby Berkeley. There is a song at least every few minutes, wonderful singing, dancing, and comedy galore, and an absolutely threadbare plot. The story is of no consequence – the music is the thing, along with Carmen Miranda’s gaudily-costumed numbers and delightful butchering of the English language.
This film was made to bolster spirits during the war and to sell war bonds, which is dealt with in part of the plot. I can’t imagine anyone walking out of the theater with anything but a smile on their face.
Alice Faye is lovely and sings beautifully in her contralto, her main number being "A Journey to a Star." Miranda’s big number, of course, is the classic "The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat" with the fabulous illusion at the end. Charlotte Greenwood gets to dance in "The Jitters" and she, Edward Everett Horton, and Eugene Palette provide excellent support. Benny Goodman’s band is a standout, and I’ve always been a sucker for Benny’s smooth, relaxed singing voice. Busby Berkeley’s numbers are spectacular, particularly the finale – but somehow, I can’t see it being done on someone’s lawn! I agree with one of the posters, these Fox musicals need to be packaged into a collection and put out on DVD. They’re too much fun to miss.