Release Date(s)1943 (July 12, 2016)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A+
It doesn’t get any better than this: a pristine transfer of a Hollywood classic, with special features providing the home video version of a graduate-level class at USC film school. That’s essentially what thirty bucks will buy you in the form of Twilight Time’s Blu-ray of The Gang’s All Here, a delightful 1943 musical directed by the incomparable Busby Berkeley and presented in a positively sumptuous package. The movie itself is both simple and staggering, a wartime entertainment designed both to take audience’s minds off of World War II and to generate poignancy via delicately rendered allusions to that same war. It’s a balancing act that Berkeley and screenwriter William Le Baron (working from a story credited to Nancy Wintner, George Root, Jr. and Tom Bridges) pull off with style and wit, offering up a sweet and funny tale about a performer (Alice Faye) who falls in love with a soldier (James Ellison) just before he heads off to war. A few complications emerge when the war hero returns – and seems to have another love in his life – but it’s not much of a spoiler to say that true love conquers all.
It’s also not unreasonable to say that the story is little more than a pretext for what Berkeley is really interested in, which is mounting some of the most elaborate, surreal, hallucinatory musical numbers ever put on film. The plot essentially serves as a mere linking device for increasingly audacious set pieces in which Berkeley’s camera defies all known laws of physics to swoop around meticulously designed sets and the complicated dances choreographed within them, dances in which the people often blur together into abstract patterns of color, shapes, and light. It’s virtually impossible to describe Berkeley’s effects in words; his is a truly pure cinema in which the medium is used to do things no other art form can. When his visual grandeur is matched with Leo Robin and Harry Warren’s collection of relentlessly catchy songs – as well as singular performers like Faye and the legendary Carmen Miranda – the result is a celebration of song and dance and film that makes one ache with longing for the classical studio era.
That era, and Berkeley’s role in it, is beautifully explored and explained on the two commentary tracks that accompany the film. First up is an audio narration by USC professor Drew Casper, a film historian without peer; no one is better at breaking down a film’s aesthetic, historical, and literary components, and his commentary here is every bit as essential as his exemplary tracks on 12 Angry Men, Lust for Life, and others. Casper’s commentary is so comprehensive that it comes as a surprise when the second track, by film historians Glenn Kenny, Farran Smith Nehme, and Ed Hulse, proves to have another 103 minutes of essential information and analysis. Both commentaries are models of the form, striking the perfect balance between accessibility and depth.
As if that weren’t enough, additional scholars – including Casper’s USC colleague Richard Jewell – appear on a 20-minute featurette that provides further background on Berkeley’s career before and during The Gang’s All Here. There’s also a slightly bizarre short film starring Faye that she made when she was working as a spokeswoman for the Pfizer company (!) decades later, and a deleted scene and trailer. All of these supplements accompany a transfer that is bursting with color, detail, and a perfect calibration of light, shadow, and grain; there are two flawless soundtracks (one stereo, one mono), and an isolated score and effects track as well. Regular readers of this site know that I’m a sucker for Twilight Time’s special editions; this is one of the very best that admirable company has yet released.
- Jim Hemphill