Regular Shadowplayers may recall my near-sexual fascination for Busby Berkeley and the FLOATING HEAD OF DEATH. Imagine my all-pervading joy and sheer, sensuous transport at finding another such head at the start of B.B.’s THE GANG’S ALL HERE:
This cheerful yet somehow alarming individual drifts weightless towards us, crooning “Brazil”, right at the start of the film. He’s not quite as skull-beneath-the-skin terrifying as Wini Shaw in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935, but it turns out he’s only a foretaste of the main attraction, which comes at the film’s end:
At the climax of a number celebrating the perennial joys of the polka dot, the traditional B.B. chorus-line transmutes by the aid of mirrors into a glistening Technicolor iris-sphincter, permutating kaleidoscopically and finally emitting —
Eugene Pallette! B. Kite and I struggled to capture this man’s majesty in our Believer article on character actors, only for Fiona to encapsulate the Great Man in a colossal nutshell: “He’s the brick shithouse everybody’s always talking about.”
Anyway, I don’t want to take that sphincter metaphor any further than I absolutely have to, but basically the entire cast of the film is evacuated right in our faces, an image out of Heironymous Bosch.
It’s hard to decide who’s more terrifying. Mock-turtle Edward Everett Horton on a sickly green polka dot platter, lunging into our eyes like a vision from Hades, certainly comes near the top. For once in this film, Carmen Miranda is actually less horripilating than everybody else.
Benny Goodman is just WRONG ALL OVER. He’s an odd film presence, in general, quite likably different and welcome, but hurled bodiless towards us with a translucent lavender ruff, he becomes a CREATURE OF NIGHTMARE.
AARGH! Shit shit shit get it way from me! Charlotte Greenwood demonstrates why Nicholas Ray slept with a gun under his pillow. If you wake up from dreaming of THIS, you’ve gotta be able to fire off a few rounds at anything lurking in the corner of the room or you’ll have a case of the screaming ab-dabs for sure.
And then Alice Faye, the singing Simone Signoret, with her cerulean-blue face, is wafted at us on happy updrafts of melody and we realise that we truly are in the Twentieth Century Fox’s idea of Sheol, Gehenna, the bottomless pit — adrift, decapitated, among the eternally smiling, hopelessly insane stars.
“Hell will have no surprises for them!”