The Gang’s All Here (1943) dir. Busby Berkeley
Starring: Carmen Miranda, James Ellison, Alice Faye, Eugene Pallette, Benny Goodman, Sheila Ryan
“The Gang’s All Here” is a treasure of Hollywood – a magnificent Fox musical directed by one of cinema’s great visual pioneers – Busby Berkeley. Under the guise of a traditional musical Berkeley crafts a series of astonishingly choreographed sequences of pure cinematic technical skill which becomes obscenely surrealist in its excess.
In contrast, the set up and execution of "the story” is one of the most pathetic coathanger plots Hollywood ever hung its hat on. Andy Parker (James Ellison) is a US G.I. about to ship off to fight in WWII. He has a girlfriend Vivian (Sheila Ryan) who is assumed to him through his family friendship. But the night before he leaves he meets a comely chorus girl named Edie Allen (Alice Faye) whom he instantly falls in love with. There’s seems to be some confusion between the sexes because Vivian thinks she’s engaged, while Andy thinks they’re just friends. Meanwhile, Edie holds a candle for Andy's return to him after his call for duty. When Andy returns home he’s forced to confront his two lovers and settle on one.
The film makes no attempt to hide its patriotic and propaganda rousing, as the lesson to be learned from all the shenanigans is to ‘give your cheatin’ soldiers a break – they’re fightin’ a war over there for you.’ It's all fodder anyway to put on a big show.
“The Gang’s All Here” is the epitome of the extraordinary creative vision of Busby Berkeley - a true visual artist working in an industry which often stifled creativity in favour of conformity. Perhaps one of the most ironic of Hollywood stories is the fact that Berkeley – despite having a lengthy and successful career as a dance choreography for both Broadway and Hollywood – could not dance. Berkeley brought his genius eye and brain for visual design and applied it to the act of dance.
Thus explains the commonalities of his work – a fetish for geometrical shapes, and choreographed movements of groups rather than individual technical skill. In fact, during World War I Berkeley learned his discipline for coordinated movement from his drill instruction.
Other than Carmen Miranda whose star power is tacked onto the story (but who provides a number of sultry and suggestive numbers), Busby Berkeley’s camera is the star in the picture. His lengthy and elaborate sequences are created from a series of long takes, which unknowing to the audience are only comprised of one or two cuts. If you thought Sam Raimi was a gymnast with his camera, 40 years prior, Berkeley’s camera was moving forward, back, up, tilting up and down at all angles to give the viewer to razzle-dazzle of Hollywood escapism.
Berkeley's form of razzle-dazzle puts most of Hollywood's modern attempts at musicals to shame.
You can find "The Gang's All Here" in a new Carmen Miranda box set available from Fox Home Entertainment. It's a must-have.