There is no other wartime musical quite like Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here: a cornucopia of music, mirth, and mind-blowing visuals with a smidgen of romance thrown in almost as an afterthought.
The Production: 3.5/5
Busby Berkeley’s wartime extravaganza The Gang’s All Here allowed the master showman his first chance to work in Technicolor and with a seemingly endless budget with which to create his cinematic phantasms masquerading as musical numbers. For audiences weary of unsettling combat bulletins for the past two years, the movie must have been a spellbinding experience allowing them to forget their troubles in a sea of skimpy plot, dazzling, overripe musical sequences flooded with eye-popping color, and pop tunes handled by some of the leading headliners of the day. Today, its very over-the-top nature makes it both a curiosity and a clinic on the Fox musical of the era: song-filled to almost the breaking point with a wispy, forgettable romantic comedy triangle plot and with stalwart support from the endless pool of Hollywood character talent.
On the night before he heads off to fight in the south Pacific, Army sergeant Andy Mason (James Ellison) meets nightclub singer Edie Allen (Alice Faye) and is instantly smitten. Since he’s already semi-engaged to childhood neighbor and sweetheart Vivian Potter (Sheila Ryan), he tells Edie his name is Pat Casey, actually his best friend (Dave Willock) in the service. Edie writes Andy every night that he’s gone, but by the time he returns on leave as a decorated veteran, both she and Vivian are working in the same show, a war bond rally sponsored by Vivian’s parents (Edward Everett Horton, Charlotte Greenwood) and Andy’s father (Eugene Pallette) but with neither girl realizing she’s in love with the same man.
The inconsequential plot was dreamed up by Nancy Wintner, George Root Jr., and Tom Bridges with the screenplay subsequently scribed by Walter Bullock, but it’s so insignificant that at some points Edie calls her love by his real name “Andy” rather than by the fake name he’s given her “Casey.” The resolution of the love triangle is handled in a couple of brief throwaway scenes, and the central romantic couple isn’t even given a final clinch or kiss. Obviously, director Busby Berkeley couldn’t have cared less about the rudimentary scenes between his numbers and spends as little time developing them as he could instead focusing on the parade of outrageously overdone production numbers that top each other in size, scope, and surrealistic touches. The opening medley of “Brazil” and “When You Discover You’re in New York,” like all of the big pieces much too large to have ever been able to fit on a nightclub stage (a carryover from Berkeley’s Warner musicals of the 1930s which could never have been performed in a legitimate Broadway house), allow us to get our bearings quickly in realizing this musical will be crammed to the gills with extravagance and outrageous excess personified by Carmen Miranda in the first in a string of numbers which emphasize her enormous fruity headdresses and profligate gowns. “The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat” solidifies that impression in another number filled with dozens of chorines who do limited movement and patterns without actual dancing while Berkeley’s camera (cinematography by Edward Cronjager) does the real choreography as it dives and swoops under, over, around, and through to best capture the director’s hallucinogenic mind pictures. Yes, there is some actual footwork in the movie, courtesy of mediocre ballroom dancer Tony De Marco with a couple of partners in some numbers, but Berkeley often cuts away from the uninteresting dances to show reactions of audience members (imagine Fred Astaire’s reaction to one of HIS dances getting interrupted like that!).
As for the top-billed Alice Faye, besides her earnest performance with the threadbare romantic plot (and she does indeed invest real emotion in even the flimsiest plot machinations), she gets two first-rate Harry Warren-Leo Robin ballads – “Journey to a Star” (which she performs twice) and “No Love, No Nothin’” – both untampered with by Mr. Berkeley and brings the show to a close with the spirited “Polka Dot Polka” which then transitions into another of Berkeley’s psychedelic concoctions (thanks to lighting effects, neon, and reverse photography) to bring the show to a close. In between, the other performers are also allowed their moments in the spotlight: Benny Goodman and His Orchestra get two new songs “Minnie’s in the Money” and “Paducah,” both of which feature Goodman doing the vocals; Charlotte Greenwood puts her patented high kicks to good use in a quick, almost impromptu jitterbug number, and Edward Everett Horton gets to play his usual fussbudget and dour aristocrat in slapstick scenes with both Eugene Pallette and Carmen Miranda. Unlike Faye’s previous leading men like Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, Cesar Romero, and John Payne, James Ellison gets short shrift in the movie, a shame since he’s a good looking and personable actor (who could also sing as he did in some B-movie westerns) who might have paired nicely with the other Fox leading ladies of the era: Betty Grable and June Haver. Speaking of Haver, you can catch a glimpse of her as a hatcheck girl, and you’ll see Jeanne Crain as a chorus girl if you look fast, both still a couple of years from their star-making parts at Fox.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Due to the nature of the decidedly inferior Eastmancolor materials Fox has left on which to draw, the image quality never matches the striking Technicolor hues which audiences originally saw. In attempting to bring some dazzle back to the image, Fox seems to have darkened the color timing a bit to get the color to pop more, but while there are moments when reds and yellows have the zing that’s expected, flesh tones often seem plugged up and unnatural, and the image never really sparkles as, say, real Technicolor like in Warners’ Blu-rays of Easter Parade or She Wore a Yellow Ribbon does. The images are very clean and sharp, and contrast is consistently applied while the black levels even with the darker image quality never reach impressive depths. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
The disc offers both DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 and 2.0 mono sound mixes. The 2.0 is the more full-bodied of the two and is the preferred track. The dialogue is always easy to discern and is never obscured by the incessant music and the occasional atmospheric effects laid on. No age-related artifacts mar the listening experience.
Special Features: 4.5/5
Audio Commentaries: the disc offers two different ones. Dr. Drew Casper takes the first one, an overly intellectual examination of Berkeley’s methodology which is too gushy and often attempts to find meaning in the most superfluous moments of the movie and with Dr. Casper several times rushing the discussion of scenes quite a few minutes before they actually appear and then repeating what he had earlier said to irritating effect. Much better is the second track which presents film historians Glenn Kenny, Ed Hulse, and Farran Smith Nehme in a much more down-to-earth and enjoyable discussion of the movie and its participants both before and behind the camera.
Isolated Score and Effects Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono.
Busby Berkeley: A Journey with a Star (19:29, SD): film historians Rick Jewell, Miles Kreuger, and others discuss Berkeley’s stage and screen career and offer critical analysis of the film’s plot and musical numbers.
Alice Faye’s Last Film: We Still Are! (24:11, SD): a trip down memory lane with Alice Faye reliving some of her past glories in films like In Old Chicago, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Lillian Russell, and Hello, Frisco, Hello, this is a film short produced when Alice served as spokeswoman for the Pfizer Corporation.
Deleted Scene (5:07, SD): a clip called “The $64 Question” deleted from the final film.
Original Theatrical Trailer (2:11, SD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains some tinted black and white stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s enthusiastic analysis of the movie.
There is no other wartime musical quite like Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here: a cornucopia of music, mirth, and mind-blowing visuals with a smidgen of romance thrown in almost as an afterthought. While not possessing the true Technicolor glory of the film at the time of its release, this Twilight Time Blu-ray is likely the closest we’ll ever get to the real thing. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.