The Gang’s All Here Blu-ray review

You’d perhaps be hard pressed to recall it, even as the film is just finishing, but there is a storyline in Busby Berkeley’s first colour feature, The Gang’s All Here.

What tale there is begins with Andy Mason (James Ellison) trying his luck with nightclub showgirl Edie Allen (Alice Faye), despite the fact that he’s actually engaged to ‘girl next door’ Vivian Potter (Sheila Ryan).

You’d think this sort of caddish behaviour would be frowned upon but the film does seem to find favour for Andy and Edie’s relationship, and when the Vivian finds out in the final act, any repercussions are quickly brushed away with a cursory excuse.

And that’s about it when it comes to plot. There’s also a little drama – though that term may be a little generous – to be found with the older cast, including the perpetually nervous Peyton Potter (Edward Everett Horton), and in the various shenanigans around the background of the central nightclub show. Really, though, this is all just set decoration for the various numbers that take up the bulk of the film’s running time.

And what stunning numbers they are.

The film opens with an extraordinary musical sequence that sets the tone of what’s to come. A dockland scene reveals the positively luminescent Carmen Miranda, who here plays the delightfully ditzy Dorita. As the number spirals outwards and the camera continues to sweep around the action it is slowly revealed that this elaborate sequence is all playing out on a stage in a nightclub.

Of course it isn’t actually. It’s physically impossible, but that was of no concern for Berkley. Later, he even includes a chandelier hanging from the ‘celling’ in an exterior scene. There’s little sense that these breaks in spatial logic might be accidental, and the former most definitely is not. They’re more an an amusing wink at the audience, a “yeah, yeah, we both know this doesn’t really make sense but the spectacle is what matters, not some dull adherence to what’s ‘real'”

The pull-back in the opening number had me roaring with laughter when I first saw it, and I have no doubt that this was the intention; the sheer audacity of the conceit is just a joy to behold. And this kind of visual excess and playfulness continues with such unforgettable numbers as The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat, with its Dali-lite delights, and the proto-psychedelic and extravagantly kaleidoscopic finale, The Polka Dot Polka. The latter is capped off with the bizarre sight of Eugene Pallette’s disembodied head flying towards the camera, as he painfully croons a reprise of the film’s key love song, Journey to a Star.

The Gang’s All Here found a new audience in the sixties and seventies, thanks at first to television showings and then a new print which made the rounds at various repertory theatres. One can only imagine what audiences partaking in the fashionable drugs of the time must have thought of the flamboyant imagery and Berkely’s highly unusual, woozy crane sweeps. That shot of Pallette in the final few moments must have sent them under their cinema seats in terror.

This new Blu-ray from Masters of Cinema is such a pleasure to watch. For a film that relies so heavily on its visuals and the vibrant Technicolor cinematography of Edward Cronjager – who also shot Lubitsch’s equally sumptuous Heaven Can Wait the same year – a good transfer pays dividends. And Masters of Cinema have really delivered the goods here, with a gorgeous new rendering of the film bringing us defined colours that really pop, but are never overly saturated. The transfer also looks incredibly clean, without any digitally introduced artefacts.

Masters of Cinema have also done a fine job with the extras for this release, with a commentary, a documentary, a deleted charades sequence and a handsome booklet featuring writing from David Cairns and Karina Longworth.

The commentary, which features Glenn Kenny, Farran Smith Nehme and Ed Hulse, is particularly informative and incredibly enjoyable to listen to. It’s entertaining and filled with nuggets of history about the film, and also features some interesting criticism from Kenny and Smith Nehme.

A marvellous film in a beautiful new transfer with a generous selection of special features, The Gang’s All Here from Masters of Cinema is a very easy disc to recommend.

The Gang’s All Here is released today, the 22nd of September.