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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Favorites List --- The Gang's All Here

The Gang's All Here is the World War Two experience I'd like to have had, dressed in tailored uniform (resplendent!), cruising service canteens where Benny Goodman plays nightly and Alice Faye serves donuts, brief repair to South Pacific climes for handily won and bloodless combat, then return home, as does James Ellison, "covered with medals." Here's a Fox musical that's escapism in its most delirious sense --- engaging the enemy can wait, we've got a war bonds show to put on! Shows like The Gang's All Here convinced my generation that WWII was a pipe, allies having knocked out Germany/Japan between jitterbug contests. Watch and be persuaded that maybe all of life was better then, just never mind iron lungs, oxygen tents, polio still waiting to be cured, and such harsher 40's realities. The Gang's All Here ignited 70's camp-fires partly because this was how we assumed life was in parent days. Wiseacre youth at revivals figured old-time director Busby Berkeley knew not real meaning of enormous bananas his chorus brandished, unintended sexual subtext only we could divine (how readily moderns assume naïveté on the part of past filmmakers). Then there's Carmen Miranda and Technicolor, both registering vibrancy beyond even what buffs imagined. The Gang's All Here's reissue may have been a first recognition of dye-transfer coloring's superiority, and one of the last in which properly calibrated IB prints ran beyond isolated archive or revival house setting.

It's seldom you see a purple station wagon with wood side paneling, but there's one in The Gang's All Here I'd proudly drive. Changed times dictate women shun a coat like Carmen Miranda's from which four chinchilla heads dangle, but ... them were the days. Little (no, big) things I notice are live oxen pulling a sound stage cart during outsized number The Lady In The Tutti-Frutti Hat. Did they dine at Fox's commissary? The Gang's All Here is rife with dialogue Eugene Pallette calls Jukebox, enforced gaiety wherein everyone laughs as punctuation to everyone else's line. There is Phil Baker reminding us how entertainment was very much a different animal in 1943. He was better known for hosting radio's Take It Or Leave It, a sampled online episode ID'ing this as precursor to TV's The $64,000 Question. Baker was a fast-patter-er who let go vaudeville's accordion for airwave hosting and occasional foray into movies where his brand of glib might register. Take It's deal with Fox traded Baker on screen for Gang's All Here network boosting, a mutual back-scratch irresistible to patrons seemingly planted before screen or radio for most of waking hours.

Notice how aggressive male suitors are in WWII pics? Limited leave time and urgency to couple quickly made for courtship approach just 2011's side of sex harassment. Is this further fuel to distance PC inoculates from old Hollywood? James Ellison starts on relentless gear with Alice Faye and ratchets up from there. Did this sort of technique ever work in real life? (certainly not for me). Part of getting in Gang's groove is acceptance of ... no, revel in ... societal rules we abide being violated with brassy gusto (big yes to those chinchilla heads!). Biz-benefits of this war included soundstage doors wide opened to veterans whose acts were so old as to seem new again. Charlotte Greenwood's high-kick dance is spotlighted as if it had never been done before, and Edward Everett Horton gets close to star turns he'd enjoyed at RKO in the thirties. EEH and Eugene Pallette are, of all things, likeable Wall Street lions getting up a mansion rally to sell bonds. Pallette looks enormous even by relaxed modern standards, his scarlet-flush, rolling perspiration, and involuntary coughs suggesting a player ready to collapse under intense Technicolor lighting.

Alice Faye seems disinterested in The Gang's All Here. Did she sense an end nearing for her kind of Fox musical? I understand there was some secret reason for AF leaving 20th after Fallen Angel a couple years later. Her own dark referral to the split during interviews made me wonder if personal animosity toward Zanuck (an unnamed incident?) led to parting after ten years. I saw Faye once at a Hollywood Cinecon, signing autographs before a long line. Something about her expression made me not join them, for what could the meet be other than perfunctory? I remember how leathery her features were, as if this were first afternoon off a Palm Springs golf course in years. Now I could wish to have waited my brief turn, and brought away a closer view and maybe better impression of a personality who'd survived her peak by fifty years and counting (Alice Faye died in 1998). The Gang's All Here is currently available On Demand from Amazon streaming in High-Definition, looking best I've seen outside 35mm Technicolor and way superior to DVD's Fox has so far issued.


Blogger Lou Lumenick said...

Another great post, John. One of those IB prints from the '70s had a New York run a couple of years ago and it still looked fantastic.

I'd guess Zanuck was enormously glad Fox never actually produced the film version of "Wendell Willkie's Epochal 'One World' '' promised in that trade ad.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

One of my favorites! I might have to check out the Netflix instant view version - the DVD is the plum of my Carmen Miranda box set (the other four features included are really a Vivian Blaine collection, not bad but decidedly a second tier TCF musical collection.) Vivid early childhood memory of seeing this one (or a clip ) on TV generations ago: those creepy bubble head cameos!

2:27 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Brazil/You discover you're in New York- opening is still one of my fave movie intros..

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Dan in Missouri said...

You don't need to keep hearing this, but the details in your posts and the wide variety of films you cover makes your site a wonderful destination.
Thanks so much
Dan in Missouri

8:57 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Lou, I'm glad to know the IB print is still getting an occasional airing. Last time I saw it was at the Cinecon where Alice Faye appeared. Really enjoying your New York Post column, by the way ... and all your scoops about upcoming Warner Archive releases!

Dave K, the Netflix stream is standard def (which I watched), but Amazon's is HD, and there is a difference. The On-Demand costs $4, but it's worth it.

Christopher, the Brazil opening number is one of my favorites in ALL of movies.

Dan, I confess to very much needing to hear such kind words and to add how much I appreciate them. Comments like yours keeps the Greenbriar engine running.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Kevin K. said...

Five minutes after I saw "Gang" I'd forgotten what it was about. But I couldn't shake the muscical numbers from my mind for days.

4:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted that movie to be my life when I was 13.

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Question: Other 40s Fox Technicolor films were offered to TV in color in the 60s-70s, but not "Gang's All Here".Why not that particular film? ("Western Union" was B/W only on TV as well, for a while).

3:04 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I think "The Gang's All Here" was at least available in color to syndicated TV by the late seventies, and I'm pretty sure "Western Union" was around on IB Tech during the sixties. One that wasn't on TV in color was "The Black Swan," at least until the SFM Holiday Network played it around 1980.

6:37 PM  

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