The Gang's All Here (1943)

Genres - Musical, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Musical Comedy  |   Release Date - Dec 24, 1943 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 103 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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As with most musical comedies intended as morale boosters during World War II, The Gang's All Here has lots of "plot" of the romantic sort, but not much story. Director and choreographer Busby Berkeley, in his only Fox film and his first film in Technicolor, not only gets the camera moving in directions and from angles that seem impossible to emulate in real life, but twists the two-dimensional space of the screen and the three-dimensional space of the sets into new shapes. The camera sometimes seems to swing around through 360 degrees, presenting musical numbers on a stage that, at various moments, seems to stretch into infinity, and grow in several directions that wouldn't seem to leave room for any audience, yet somehow manage to. Coupled with Carmen Miranda's outsized personality and a lot of still-very-amusing comic bits by Edward Everett Horton, Charlotte Greenwood (who dances up a storm in one scene), comedian and radio personality Phil Baker, and Eugene Pallette (aided by some amazingly accurate studio recreations of New York streets, Grand Central Station, and the Staten Island Ferry), the film keeps us moving, laughing, and humming, and also tapping our feet to the beat of Benny Goodman's orchestra. Berkeley's use of special effects in the service of dance is extraordinary -- gravity seems to disappear at various points, strange, unearthly rings surround performers in mid-air, and nightclubs interiors suddenly lose their walls and ceilings and even their stages, which suddenly become bigger than any building that they could seemingly ever contain them. What makes it all even more amazing to modern viewers is that Berkeley did all of this for real -- on the soundstage, with cranes and lighting, shifting sets, invisible mountings, and using devices as simple as phosphorescent hula hoops -- with no CGI or post-production super-imposing, just a lot of guts, planning, and great editing (some of which anticipates what Alfred Hitchcock did on Rope with its seamless edits of extended takes), and all on a budget that wouldn't have paid for the costumes in a James Cameron epic. In the major number from the film's first half, "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat," amid the shifting spatial dimensions captured by the camera -- where a single prop tree suddenly multiplies to infinity, and fruit turn into xylophones -- Carmen Miranda sings while what look like hundreds of chorus girls sway back and forth in carefully choreographed patterns, carrying oversized bananas. This leads to an overhead Berkeley-style kaleidoscope shot of the chorus girls that's as dazzling as it is tasteless, and it ends up at a climactic shot of Miranda seemingly wearing a "hat" hundreds of times her size, made of nothing but fruit. Benny Goodman also sings a pair of numbers, and the odd thing he's not bad -- he's no Sinatra (not even Nancy Sinatra) or Perry Como, but he does okay. So forget the plot -- or take in the plot, if that's your choice (the jokes still work, and it's nice to remember that there were wars worth fighting and believing in) -- and sit back and enjoy this unique visual/dance/musical fantasy, which boasts some of the strangest arrays of images, color, and music this side of Disney's Fantasia.