THE GANG’S ALL HERE—-do check out this 1943 audience-fave, and enjoy its outrageous design and rat-a-tat energy. Daffy as can be, long a camp classic (and for many a sort of gay rite-of-passage), it’s a eyeball-rocking shot of Technicolor, a slice of vanished Americana (keep the home front buzzing and the G.I.s jazzed up) and has an out-of-body-experience finale.
A never-flagging 103-minute pace starts with a bang as Brazil’s 5-foot gift to kitsch heaven, Carmen Miranda, steps off a steamship (forget those silly U-boats!) into New York, ready to rumba at a nightclub also employing Alice Faye (looking great, those eyes really sparkle). Society bigwigs lure the club’s talent to put on a garden show at their fancypants mansion, to sell war bonds. Shipping-out for the Pacific, All-American playboy James Ellison falls for Faye and—aw, just ignore the gossamer-thin goofball plot and enjoy the spirited cast, the musical numbers (including Benny Goodman and his orchestra) and the hallucinogenic designs of director Busby Berkeley.
Camera moves gone bananas–and that for sure fits, as this is the movie where three dozen chorines dance while wielding giant waving bananas and Miranda wears half the fruit native to the Amazon on top of her head. She lets the Hitler-weary planet have it with “The Lady In The Tutti-Frutti Hat”, chirping “Some people say I dress too gay, but every day I feel so gay, and when I’m gay I dress that way, is something wrong with that? Noooo!” Talk about begging for immortality. *
The censors at the Hayes Office somehow picked up on the banana-dancers (these are six-foot long bananas, ladies & gentlemen) and their uh..props as being too phallic (there’s a war on!), so a compromise was reached by having the girls wave these honkers at waist level rather than hip high. Still….
High kicks from Charlotte Greenwood, comic timing from Eugene Pallette and Edward Everett Horton, a how-the-hell-can-she-do-that? backwards somersault number from 16-year-old specialty dancer Miriam LaVelle.** An Oscar-nominee for Art Direction, which throughout is swell, but what really sends everything into did-Busby-get-acid-from-Walt? orbit is the last number, the “Polka Dot Polka”, which goes supernova and explodes into a delirium of kaleidoscopes. Where is this plant, Busby, and how can we get some?***
With Phil Baker, Tony De Marco, Sheila Ryan, Dave Willock, Frank Faylen and unaccredited in bits as showgirls, Jeanne Crain, June Haver and Adele Jurgens. It came in a vibrant #19 for its year, earning $2,500,000.
*Leaving aside Miranda’s bananas imprint upon the happy, one imagines Hitler’s minister of propaganda, Josef Goebbels, aware of this kind of lavish American frivolity— cranked out while it fought across two oceans and supplied England and Russia— realizing “If they can afford to do that--right now?–we’re going to lose, and big!”
** Not all endings are happy. The gymnastic whirligig Miriam LaVelle had been groomed and controlled by a stage mom. After four movie bits, she fell back to nightclub circuits, and apparently into drink and depression. Facts remain scanty, but it seems she passed away in 1958, only 31, forgotten.
*** You want colors? You seek talking bananas? How about answers? Eight letters, begins with A, found in Peru and Colombia. Heard it on the Great Vine….