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The Gang’s All Here (1943) [Masters of Cinema] [UK] Blu-ray Review

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The Film

[Rating:4/5]

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Hollywood’s response to World War II was a strange mixture of escapism and gritty heroism. The year Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here was released also saw such fare as the gripping Edge of Darkness about a Swedish village that overthrows Nazi occupying forces and Action in the North Atlantic which brought the dreaded Nazi U-Boats and the War of the Atlantic right into American cinemas. Way over on the other end of the spectrum is Berkeley’s film. A seemingly disconnected story filled with dazzling musical productions, surreal, often phallic symbolism, romance, and beautiful dancing showgirls by the dozens.

At the heart of The Gang’s All Here remains a story of a soldier, Andrew Mason (James Ellison), who, ahead of his deployment to the South Pacific to fight the Japanese, falls for the beautiful blonde, but very hard to get, showgirl Edie (Alice Faye), even though he is already engaged to his childhood sweetheart Vivian (Sheila Ryan). His return to the States and a U.S. Bond drive put on by his parents and their friends and neighbors, the parents of his betrothed, lead to an awkward situation when both Edie and Vivian are gathered for a big charity performance. While the situation does allow for what is probably the realest moment in the film when Edie, finally made aware of Andrew’s two-timing, lets him know that his status as a war hero does not give him free rein to treat all the women left back at home like rubbish, for the most part The Gang’s All Here is lighthearted, comical, and completely unaware of the real problems in the world at the time.

Made in the midst of the big band Jazz explosion and the country’s newfound ‘discovery’ of the South American/Latin sounds, the film also features music and appearances from Benny Goodman and his Orchestra and the wonderfully energetic Carmen Miranda, who, despite her marketing as a Latin spice, was in fact Portuguese.

It is the visual aesthetic of Busby Berkeley’s choreography that is the real draw in the film, however. His signature style of an almost monolith of dancing showgirls, wide angle overhead panning shots and a kaleidoscope of visual effects that include at one point the very obviously phallic use of giant bananas are both dazzling to watch, but also, at times, unsettling. The film ends with a panoply of disembodied heads of the main characters against a background of swirling colors. It leaves one both mesmerized and also wondering what, if anything, the film might have really been all about.

The entire feeling of The Gang’s All Here, in fact, is one of not just comedic excess and camp, but one of desperately trying to avoid the darker side of reality. It ticks all the boxes of the styles that were currently in vogue in Hollywood, but it does it in its own peculiar way, one that exists in its own universe.

Video Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

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This Technicolor spectacular from 20th Century Fox comes to Blu-ray in a beautiful 1080p AVC encodement from Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series. There are some unavoidably rough spots due to the visual effects and the nature of the three-strip Technicolor format, but mostly we get a gorgeously saturated, clean image that looks filmic, has superb contrast, and lots of detail.

Audio Quality

[Rating:3.5/5]

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An English LPCM 1.0 (48kHz/24-bit) track of the original monaural soundtrack is included. Despite its limited dynamic and frequency range it supplies good enough clarity given its age.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:3/5]

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  • Commentary featuring film critics Clenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nchmc, and film historian Ed Nulse in conversation about the film. Recorded exclusive for The Masters of Cinema Series in New York in February 2014.
  • Busby Berkeley: A Journey with a Star (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:19:29)
  • Deleted Scene (1.37:1; 1080p/24; 00:05:09)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1.37:1; 00:02:10)
  • Booklet: 36-page booklet features essays on the film by critics David Cairns and Karina Longworth, rare photos, and more.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4/5]

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Catch the dazzling excess, the surreal imagery, and the catchy musical escapades including “Girl in the Tutti-Frutti Hat” and “The Polka-Dot Polka” in this colorful wartime musical, The Gang’s All Here, a classic bit of Hollywood escapism from the golden age.

Additional Screen Captures

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