Home Video Reviews
It's ironic that this movie has been released on DVD in two different collections in such a short time frame, for it's best characterized not as an Alice Faye or a Carmen Miranda movie, but as a Busby Berkeley movie. It is far and away dominated by Berkeley's consistent visual inventiveness, be it his kaleidoscopic and geometric overhead shots, his knockout color schemes, his special effects, or just by the props and objects that he places in the frame.
For example, before shooting Carmen Miranda's unforgettable number "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat," Berkeley must have told the studio brass something like the following: "I'll need half a dozen small monkeys, two oxen, 40 giant prop bananas, and, oh, about 2000 small ones." A statement like that signifies either utter madness or utter genius. Luckily, Fox chief Darryl Zanuck had been at Warner Brothers in the 1930s when Berkeley choreographed Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) and Footlight Parade (1933), and therefore was unfazed by any level of wackiness this time around. He simply gave Berkeley what he needed (including a high budget and a long shooting schedule), and for that we can all be thankful.
The picture shows right off the bat that it's not going to be presenting itself in the usual musical way; the first image is of a disembodied head singing in the upper left corner of a black screen. When the final number comes to an end 103 minutes later, the last thing we see is a frame filled with singing disembodied heads! It's safe to say that if Busby Berkeley had never been born, no filmmaker would ever have thought of doing this. It's but one of countless images here that manage to be bizarre, funny, surreal and wonderful in one big mishmash.
For all the craziness of the numbers, The Gang's All Here is pure WWII-era escapism that speaks to the girls left behind by war-bound American soldiers. It also gives us the male fantasy of a serviceman sweeping Alice Faye off her feet. James Ellison is about to leave for the Pacific, but before he goes he falls for the seemingly untouchable showgirl Faye, and after some resistance, she falls, too. He goes to war and returns a hero, but his longtime sweetie (Sheila Ryan) expects to marry him. She's become friends with Faye, who doesn't know about Ellison's two-timing. Carmen Miranda plays another singer who basically tries to keep the peace, but the plot isn't nearly as important as this synopsis makes it sound. It's boy meets, loses, and gets girl, set to the luscious music of Benny Goodman and His Orchestra (they're in the film and Benny has a speaking role) and the unique imagery of Berkeley.
Alice Faye performed in this film right after Hello Frisco, Hello (1943), and she was soon to make her last movie (Fallen Angel, 1945) before leaving Hollywood and her career. She looks especially beautiful here and sings a few songs including the superb "No Love, No Nothin'" and "A Journey to a Star." Faye's biographer Jane Lenz Elder has written, "More than any other actor in The Gang's All Here, Alice emerges as a three-dimensional human being rather than a caricature... Berkeley uses Alice to anchor the rest of the film's action, which critics and audiences noted with approval."
Carmen Miranda, on the other hand, was at her peak in this film. It was her sixth American movie and the most prominent role she had yet played. She helps carry this picture, and not just with her singing and dancing; she gets quite a few acting scenes as well, including a hilarious sequence with Edward Everett Horton in which her kisses almost turn him into a proverbial jungle cat! Born in Portugal, raised in Brazil, Miranda had become a singing star and made a few Brazilian films before coming to America to star in musical revues on Broadway. It was only a matter of time before Fox came calling and put her in the Betty Grable/Don Ameche feature film Down Argentine Way (1940). She was a sensation in her jaw-dropping costumes and hats and with her endless energy. Film historian Jeanine Basinger writes in her book The Star Machine that to filmgoers in the 1940s, Miranda "was an exaggeration and a welcome one." Carmen Miranda and Maria Montez, Basinger says, "were stars of the moment in an era that needed their humor, their color, and their considerable pizzazz... They remind us that people can have fun during dark times. They sent things up with a deadly seriousness that is only to be admired."
Also in the cast is Eugene Pallette, pairing comically with Horton and even, yes, singing a lyric of the closing song. Look for Adele Jergens as a chorus girl, June Haver as a hat check girl near the opening, and Jeanne Crain as a girl in a bathing suit who asks Charlotte Greenwood if she's going oor a dip in the pool. These were Crain's first words on film.
Fox Home Entertainment has included all the extras that were on the original DVD release: an audio commentary by Drew Casper, a deleted scene (nothing special but worth a look), a well-produced featurette on Berkeley, a short promotional film Alice Faye made for Pfizer in 1985, which has her reminiscing on her career between clips of her work, two episodes of Faye and husband Phil Harris' 1940s radio show, a trailer and various still galleries.
Also in this box set are four more Carmen Miranda pictures: Greenwich Village (1944), Something For the Boys (1944), Doll Face (1946) and If I'm Lucky (1946). The various extras include a deleted scene from Doll Face, two isolated score tracks, trailers and stills, and a new 83-minute documentary entitled Carmen Miranda: The Girl From Rio which is quite detailed and informative. (It's on the Something for the Boys disc.) Fox has also thrown in a colorful 10-page booklet with printed info on each film. Picture and sound quality are excellent, especially on Doll Face, which looks breathtakingly sharp. Each title comes in its own slim case, and the artwork on all the packaging is beautiful, colorful and fun. Carmen Miranda, whose glamorous face adorns the box cover, would wholeheartedly approve!
For more information about The Gang's All Here, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order The Gang's All Here, go to TCM Shopping
by Jeremy Arnold