Masters Of Cinema #94 - The Gang's All Here - Blu-ray Review

"This is a musical first and a narrative a firm second, something which Berkeley keeps in mind from the opening to the closing frame".

Regularly visually and aesthetically dazzling, perhaps the most striking thing of all about The Gang's All Here is that it is now over seventy years old. There are elements throughout which belie the film's age, most of all its surreal, psychedelic musical finale, "The Polka Dot Polka". Employing kaleidoscopic visuals and a dance routine incorporating luminescent props, all of which feels decades ahead of its time, director Busby Berkeley consistently impresses with his highly imaginative and futuristic cinematography.

It's clear that Berkeley's number one focus throughout The Gang's All Here is entertainment. Many of the musical numbers presented are accompanied by lavish dance routines flamboyantly realised and spectacularly choreographed. Carmen Miranda lends both her vocals and dance moves to many of the most impressive, with "The Lady In The Tutti Frutti Hat" perhaps proving her most memorable sequence, due in part to the troupe of female dancers featured brandishing oversized bananas, which caused problems for censors at the time of the film's release thanks to their apparent suggestive nature.

The sheer amount of musical numbers in The Gang's All Here, particularly throughout the opening hour, makes it impossible not to get swept up by the film and enjoy all that you're experiencing. Whilst there are one or two relatively low-key songs, the majority can be considered amongst the most catchy and upbeat show tunes of the 1940s. The host of talent Berkeley assembles - most notably Benny Goodman And His Orchestra featured throughout as themselves - ensures that neither the quality nor the enjoyment level of the musical aspects of his film ever dips.

With the entertainment side of his film clearly Berkeley's primary concern, the narrative aspect unfortunately proves somewhat less convincing. Whilst the performances from the cast are consistently pleasing (if now a little dated here and there), they can't make up for the fact that the love triangle plot Berkeley unravels is unremittingly simplistic. This is less of a problem during the first half, where the narrative scenes are essentially only there to link up the many song and dance sequences. During the film's second half however, the director chooses to focus more on the story and less on the music, highlighting the weaknesses within the script. The characters here also offer little in the way of development, which never offers much of a problem within the context of the film, but does serve to highlight further the basic nature of the narrative within Berkeley's film.

It's beneficial that The Gang's All Here constantly keeps entertainment at its heart, regularly using its oversimple plot to set up some genuinely funny comedy scenes. There's a smattering of theatrically farcical sequences, as well as several exchanges between characters demonstrating some skilfully written wordplay. When all is said and done however, this is a musical first and a narrative a firm second, something which Berkeley keeps in mind from the opening to the closing frame of his film; the spectacular entertainment The Gang's All Here consistently offers does enough to make up for its handful of less noteworthy elements.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

The Gang's All Here is released in the UK on Monday 22nd September 2014

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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