#494) The Gang’s All Here (1943)

#494) The Gang’s All Here (1943)

OR “Bananas”

Directed by Busby Berkeley

Written by Walter Bullock. Original Songs by Leo Robin and Harry Warren.

Class of 2014 

The Plot: The night before he reports for duty in the Army, Andy Mason Jr. (James Ellison) meets nightclub singer Eadie Allen (Alice Faye). The two hit it off, but Andy is already involved with Vivian (Sheila Ryan), so he gives Eadie the fake name “Sgt. Pat Casey”. But no one actually cares about the love triangle; this movie is all about Busby Berkeley’s trademark dance numbers, and performances by Carmen Miranda, Phil Baker, Tony DeMarco, and Benny Goodman and his Orchestra!

Why It Matters: The NFR gives mention to Berkeley and Miranda, as well as the “Tutti-Frutti Hat” number, though admits that the musical is “not remembered as well today as those put out by MGM”.

But Does It Really?: Longtime readers know that I will give a slight pass to any NFR film with even the flimsiest justification, but I don’t see how “The Gang’s All Here” made the cut. There are other Busby Berkeley musicals on the list, other WWII propaganda; heck there’s even another Carmen Miranda movie (also inducted in 2014, weirdly enough). “Gang’s” is by no means a bad movie, it’s just not essential to the history of American film. There’s some visually interesting production numbers, but the whole film has a sameness to it that constantly reminds you of all the better movie musicals you could be watching instead. “Gang’s” is another movie I would reserve for pure film buffs only, and its NFR designation is still a head-scratcher.

Everybody Gets One: Dubbed “The Queen of Fox”, Alice Faye was one of the studio’s biggest stars in the ’30s and ’40s. Although primarily successful in big splashy musicals, Faye was able to turn in the occasional dramatic role, such as “In Old Chicago”. “The Gang’s All Here” was Faye’s last big musical for Fox before ending her film career to focus on her family (she was pregnant with her second daughter Phyllis during production). Faye was married for 54 years to singer/comedian Phil Harris, and theirs is still considered one of the most successful marriages in show business history.

Wow, That’s Dated: This has all the dated hallmarks of your standard WWII movie (“Buy your war bonds in this theatre”), plus the added racial insensitivity of a ’40s “Good Neighbor” movie. Side note: With Disney’s Fox acquisition, I guess the name 20th Century Fox is now dated as well.

Title Track: Even this movie’s title is unnecessarily weird! The original title was “The Girls He Left Behind” but was inexplicably changed. The song “Hail, Hail the Gang’s All Here” plays in the first moments of the opening credits, and is never heard or referenced in the film proper.

Seriously, Oscars?: Despite some critical misgivings, “The Gang’s All Here” was a hit with audiences, and received an Oscar nomination for its Art Direction. Despite some genuinely impressive set pieces, the production design team lost to Universal’s color remake of “Phantom of the Opera“.

Other notes 

  • The one thing that this movie has over other NFR films is that it was solely directed by Busby Berkeley (he choreographed, but not direct, “42nd Street” and “Footlight Parade”). This is a point in “Gang’s” favor, but if that’s your criteria, why not induct “Babes in Arms” or “For Me and My Gal” instead?
  • This all being said, Berkeley is definitely cutting loose with the camera on this movie. We get his trademark overhead dance formations, plus all kinds of crazy angles and dolly shots. Shoutout to cinematographer Edward Cronjager for going along for the ride. Side Note: Cronjager was Oscar-nominated that year for his work on Ernst Lubitsch’s “Heaven Can Wait” (no relation to the 1941 or 1978 films).
  • After being nightclub-bound in “Down Argentine Way”, Carmen Miranda actually gets to interact with people in this movie! She’s having fun, but Carmen is clearly no actor, and her dialogue consists entirely of broken English and malapropisms. There’s something unjust about the likes of Lauren Bacall, Shirley Temple, and Gloria Swanson each having one NFR entry apiece, yet Carmen Miranda is on here twice.
  • Ah yes, back when the hippest musician on the scene was a 34-year-old clarinetist named Benny. Goodman must have been pissed when rock ‘n’ roll became a thing.
  • “The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat” is fun, and features Miranda in a hat made of bananas, but it never quite matches the big musical numbers of other ’40s movies. Although this is the first film in which Miranda is wearing a banana hat, she had previously donned a fruit hat in 1941’s “That Night in Rio“.
  • Most meta-moment: Alice Faye tells James Ellison to “Stop acting like Don Ameche”. I’m sure Ellison was well aware he was not anyone’s first choice for this movie.
  • I know the Andy/Eadie love story is supposed to be cute, but HE HAS A GIRLFRIEND. It all works out in the end, but he is definitely two-timing Vivien.
  • Alice Faye is more of a sultry leading lady than her ingenue contemporaries, a little more jaded. Plus she’s a contralto! I can sing along with her!
  • Even the reliable comedy and high-kicking of Charlotte Greenwood can’t save this movie. I enjoyed the pairing of her with the always funny Edward Everett Horton, but this movie’s weirdness overshadows any positive qualities.
  • Speaking of character actors, this movie features Eugene Pallette, who has popped up quite a bit on this list. Most remember him for his unique bullfrog voice, but I always remember him as a Nazi sympathizer who got fired from Otto Preminger’s “In the Meantime, Darling” because he refused to do a scene with African-American actor Clarence Muse where they were treated as equals. Fuck you, Pallette!
  • Weirdly enough, the camera gets very static during the “book” scenes. It’s like Busby can only be creative during the musicals numbers.
  • The “Polka-Dot Polka” finale is quite the trip. We get kids dubbed by adults, women dressed like they’re in “TRON” holding neon rings, and the floating, singing heads of our main cast members. Oh, and the resolution of the main plot is implied, and not actually addressed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: WHAT IS HAPPENING!?

Legacy 

  • The film’s only lasting point of reference is Carmen Miranda’s banana hat. It’s no coincidence that less than a year after “Gang’s” release, The United Fruit company unveiled their new mascot: Chiquita Banana.

Listen to This: The two biggest names in the movie also have tracks in the National Recording Registry: Carmen Miranda with “O Que É Que A Baiana Tem?” and Benny Goodman with his album “Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert”.

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