THE GANG’S ALL HERE! Wartime antics

Benny Goodman (cl,vcl); Lee Castle, Harold Peppie, Bobby Guyer (tp); Charlie Castaldo, Miff Mole (tb); Hymie Schertzer, Leonard Kaye, Benny Carter (as); Jon Walton, Bob Taylor (onscreen solo recorded by Eddie Miller)(ts); Joe Rushton (bass sax); Jess Stacy (p); Bart Roth (g); Gus Van Camp (b); Louie Bellson (d); Eddie Sauter (arr). Alice Faye & Carmen Miranda (vcl). String section added for “No Love, No Nothin’.”

Film studio pre-recordings, Hollywood, late March/April 1943

Let’s Dance                                        20th Century Fox TCF233

Minnie’s in the Money (BG vcl)                   TCF-233

Paducah, Part 1 (BG vcl)                              TCF-237

Paducah, Part 2 (CM vcl)                              TCF-238

No Love, No Nothin’ (AF vcl)                        TCF-240

bg title_the_gangs_all_here_blu-ray_Benny Goodman made his first film appearances with his orchestra in 1936 and 1937 in THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1937 and HOLLYWOOD HOTEL. After these well-received features, he made no others for five long years, the period of his greatest popularity.

The film studios took awhile to fully embrace the Swing Era. Big bands were well featured in short films (as they had been doing so since the dawn of talkies), but features were a bit harder to crack. Duke Ellington, always a law unto himself, had made guest appearances in a batch of movies starting in 1930, as had Cab Calloway. These were always “specialty” sequences, rarely interacting with the lead characters.

After Goodman’s 1930s films, the concept of building a full-length film around a band began to take hold, though slowly. Artie Shaw actually played a role and had dialogue in his two features, DANCING CO-ED and SECOND CHORUS. With 1940’s LET’S MAKE MUSIC, Bob Crosby began a series of B-musicals starring his band.

Of course, Glenn Miller’s two movies truly showed that a band could carry a film (albeit with star support like skater Sonja Henie) as did Harry James’ PRIVATE BUCKAROO, with the red-hot Andrews Sisters. Jimmy Dorsey was well provided for in THE FLEET’S IN, with Dorothy Lamour, Betty Hutton and William Holden. Johnny Mercer and the film’s director Victor Schertzinger penned the finest score for any big band feature, including “Tangerine,” “I Remember You,” “Not Mine” and “Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry.”

Brother Tommy Dorsey debuted with the micro-budgeted LAS VEGAS NIGHTS (1940) and then moved up to the slightly larger-budget SHIP AHOY, at MGM with Eleanor Powell. Harry James then had the distinction of being the first top band showcased in Technicolor, with future wife Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda in SPRINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES. The hit song “I Had the Craziest Dream” was an added plus.

With the onerous 1942 recording ban and wartime travel restrictions in place, it was likely easier for bands to make Hollywood their home for lengthy periods. As the King of Swing, Benny Goodman soon began getting the call. Once World War II began, he and his band started popping up in film after film, six over the next two years.

1942 – SYNCOPATION, THE POWERS GIRL, STAGE DOOR CANTEEN

1943 – THE GANG’S ALL HERE

1944 – SWEET AND LOWDOWN, MAKE MINE MUSIC

bg Gang's All Here, The (1943)_01THE GANG’S ALL HERE remains the best-remembered Goodman film of the era, mostly for reasons that have little to do with Benny. 20th Century Fox pulled out all the stops for this one – who cared about wartime austerity? The film starred Alice Faye and Carmen Miranda and was acclaimed film choreographer-director Busby Berkeley’s first color assignment. Not just any color – Fox specialized in super-saturated Technicolor photography, which made Alice and Carmen look as luscious as cherry-topped ice-cream sundaes.

The film was also stuffed with familiar character players – Charlotte Greenwood, Edward Everett Horton, Eugene Pallette, Phil Baker, Frank Faylen and dancer Tony DeMarco. Three future stars made brief appearances as showgirls and hat check honeys – Jeanne Crain, June Haver and Adele Jergens.

bg 800__the_gangs_all_here_02_blu-ray__blu-ray_After writing the wonderful scores for the two Glenn Miller films and Harry James’ SPRINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES, Fox once again hired composer Harry Warren to write THE GANG’S ALL HERE score, but not with his usual lyricist Mack Gordon. Leo Robin was equally as adept as Gordon and crafted two lovely ballads, “No Love, No Nothin’” and “A Journey to a Star.” Alice Faye delivered both of them, memorably.

With the record ban firmly in place, neither tune got much record coverage though Judy Garland covered both songs on her first post-ban Decca session. It was surprising to find Judy singing Fox songs, rather than numbers from her home studio, MGM.

Since Benny was between vocalists at the time (Peggy Lee having just left the band) he got handed two novelties to sing, “Minnie’s in the Money” and “Paducah.” Both had catchy melodies but rather lame lyrics, with the latter tune reaching for the same sort of success that Warren’s previous two “city songs” had attained – “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.” Even with Carmen Miranda joining in, “Paducah” was a dud. Never the greatest actor, Benny was only handed a few incidental lines. Glenn Miller and Harry James fared better in the acting department in their pictures.

bg 800__the_gangs_all_here_X03_blu-ray__blu-ray_In addition to the opening number, the Latin classic “Brazil,” Carmen Miranda made the most of her two feature novelties, “You Discover You’re in New York,” “The Lady with the Tutti-Frutti Hat” Director Busby Berkeley made the most of Fox Technicolor, with spectacular, surrealistic effects and over-the-top set pieces, like Carmen Miranda’s dancing bananas and huge fruit hat. The “Polka-Dot Polka” finale tops them all, with neon hoops, wild color shifts and a kaleidoscopic windup, with all the cast members singing a line of “A Journey to a Star” with their heads poked through a shimmering silver curtain. “Buy Your War Bonds at the Theater!”

bg 800__the_gangs_all_here_X05_blu-ray__blu-ray_The film was so stuffed with songs by the principals, comedy from Carmen, Charlotte Greenwood, Eugene Pallette and Edward Everett Horton, dance routines by Tony DeMarco and Berkeley’s lengthy production numbers that very little time was left for the mundane girl-falls-for-soldier plot, which was just as well. Berkeley was never a great dialogue director and Alice Faye pretty much sleepwalks her way though her on again-off again romance with the less than scintillating James Ellison. With all the male stars off at war, Faye had to make do with the leftovers here.

Also, Alice was pregnant during much of the shooting schedule and was not feeling at her best. This would prove to be her last starring Fox musical.

bg 800__the_gangs_all_here_X09_blu-ray__blu-ray_Getting back to Benny and the boys, this was a band in transition. The draft had decimated his great 1941-42 band and a lot of newcomers were present here, as the personnel on the heading shows. Youngsters Lee Castle, Louis Bellson and Jon Walton play alongside oldsters Miff Mole, Jess Stacy and Hymie Schertzer.

The Goodman group swung like crazy during their brief solo spots. The great rhythm section was well recorded, with Jess Stacy and Louis Bellson especially prominent. The band was augmented with strings and a liquid Benny Carter alto solo during Alice Faye’s torcher, “No Love, No Nothin’.” Carter was on the Fox lot working on STORMY WEATHER and other arranging jobs and managed to wedge in this Goodman guest appearance.

bg alice carmenTHE GANG’S ALL HERE was one of the last Fox musicals that had special 78rpm pressings done of the songs as souvenir albums for the cast and production people. As with the Glenn Miller films, these albums are pretty rare. With the war going strong, niceties like these discs fell by the wayside and Fox stopped doing them in 1944. Little surprises do pop up on these discs. The “Paducah” record, for example, has several extra band choruses before Carmen Miranda’s vocal that were cut by the time the film was released. Only the Goodman numbers are mentioned above, but there were numerous additional ones as well.

bg gangs 1974As one of the most ephemeral of World War II era musicals, THE GANG’S ALL HERE has had a surprising afterlife. In 1974, the film was reissued to theaters in an eye-popping new print and it instantly became a camp classic, primarily for the Busby Berkeley and Carmen Miranda contributions. Reviewers like Rex Reed fell all over themselves to praise Berkeley and the candy-colored backgrounds. Other theatrical revivals followed and the film eventually turned up on the AMC cable network in the 1990s. It took awhile for a home video release, apparently due to problems with the film negative elements.

A 2008 Fox DVD release as past of an Alice Faye boxed set was criticized for its blurry transfer, so a remaster was done the following year and included in a Carmen Miranda set. While an improvement, it still can’t compare with the dazzling theatrical prints seen earlier. At some point, Fox apparently transferred their three-strip Technicolor film negatives to Eastmancolor stock, which has a duller color palette. That’s all we apparently have now.

Still, it remains a delight to see Benny Goodman at his peak in Technicolor, the only one of his band musicals to be filmed that way.  It’s also a treat to hear one of the least-recorded Goodman bands in such sparkling fidelity.

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Songs in Search of a Home

Everybody’s Got a Home But Me is an exquisitely mournful ballad from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1955 Broadway musical, PIPE DREAM. That title might be applied to several songs written by these composers and others that never found a home to settle into.

easterparade

MR. MONOTONY – In 1947, Irving Berlin wrote this quirky number for Judy Garland to perform in EASTER PARADE. Judy recorded and filmed the song, wearing a snazzy tuxedo and hat outfit that would later be immortalized in her Get Happy routine in SUMMER STOCK. The performance would be deleted before the film’s release; two reasons have been offered for its’ removal.

judy monotonyjudymrmonotony

It was suggested that Judy’s outfit was too contemporary looking for the movie’s 1912 time period, or that there were simply too many musical sequences and one would have to go. The film was preserved and has been included on several MGM DVDs.

misssliberty

Never one to let a good song go to waste, Berlin tried it in another period piece, the 1949 Broadway musical MISS LIBERTY, where it was choreographed by Jerome Robbins. After a few performances, the song was found wanting again and was dropped. The same thing happened in the next Irving Berlin-Jerome Robbins show, 1950’s CALL ME MADAM, where star Ethel Merman asked for the song’s removal while the show was still in its pre-Broadway tryout.

And that was pretty much the end of Mr. Monotony. The Robbins choreography has fortunately been preserved and the number has been included in JEROME ROBBINS’ BROADWAY and other Robbins compilations. Yet the song is still causing problems. On a television episode of GLEE a few years ago, stars Jane Lynch and Matthew Morrison were set to perform it, but it was dropped yet again! As in the case of Judy Garland, the recording still exists.

oklahomaboysgirls

BOYS AND GIRLS LIKE YOU AND ME – this is an even sadder case. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote this charmer in 1943 for a little show named OKLAHOMA!, when its title was still AWAY WE GO!  It was sung by Carly and Laurey as a love duet near the end of the show, but was dropped out of town in favor of a reprise of People Will Say We’re in Love. In a decidedly unusual circumstance, R&H sold the song to MGM, who decided to add it to the Hugh Martin-Ralph Blane score of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS. Martin and Blane were not happy.

Judy & Tom Drake slog around the muddy unfinished fairgrounds as she sings BOYS AND GIRLS LIKE YOU AND ME

Judy & Tom Drake slog around the muddy unfinished fairgrounds as she sings BOYS AND GIRLS LIKE YOU AND ME.

It was slotted into a spot right after The Trolley Song. Judy Garland and her beau Tom Drake walk around the unfinished site of the St Louis World’s Fair. To keep Judy from getting her feet muddy, Tom picks her up and carries her, as she sings the song. It was felt that the scene slowed down the action, so it all was cut, to the composers’ relief – now they wouldn’t be competing with Rodgers & Hammerstein! Judy did record it for her Decca 78 album of songs from the movie. Its inclusion puzzled collectors who were unaware of the number’s history for years.

BallGame

MGM dredged the tune up again in 1948 and gave it to Frank Sinatra to sing to Betty Garrett in TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME. Though Frank gave it a tender reading as the duo walk around a picnic area, the scene was once again deemed too static and it was removed.

 

Betty Garrett listens as Frankie croons BOYS AND GIRLS.

Betty Garrett listens as Frankie croons BOYS AND GIRLS.

Rodgers and Hammerstein apparently liked the song, as it then popped up in stage productions of their TV musical, CINDERELLA, usually assigned to the older King and Queen. In the 1965 TV remake, it is heard as background music during a dance sequence. The 1996 STATE FAIR stage musical used the song as a duet for the parents. Ironic that a song originally intended for a young couple would end up being repurposed for senior citizens.

ac hollywood songac hwood song

While on the subject of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, there is another song possibly connected to it that intrigues me. After ST. LOUIS, composers Martin and Blane contributed a few songs to the 1945 MGM film, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO IN HOLLYWOOD. Originally titled CLOSE SHAVE, the boys play barbers who end up nearly wrecking the aforementioned studio. The movie has several pleasant ballads sung by Bob Haymes, Dick’s sound-alike brother, billed under his stage name of Robert Stanton.

There is also one big production number with the oddly specific title of Fun On the Wonderful Midway. Bob sings and it is danced by Frances Rafferty and future MGM director Charles Walters (he helmed EASTER PARADE). Kay Thompson wrote the wild vocal arrangement. The song has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, being a production number that we see in the process of being filmed for another movie (all in one take!). Taking place on the amusement area of a pier side park, it allows for a comic rollercoaster chase with Lou Costello.

The Midway, aka "The Pike" at the 1904 St. Louis Fair

The Midway, aka “The Pike” at the 1904 St. Louis Fair

Another view of "The PIke"

Another view of “The Pike”

I wonder if the song had originally been written in mind for MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, as the amusement area of the 1904 St. Louis Fair was known as the Midway (also nicknamed The Pike). It’s easy to see this song being considered for the film’s finale, especially since the last sequence at the Fair has no musical numbers and it would have been nice to end on a big final showcase for Judy. Who knows? It certainly would have cost a lot to stage and that was always a big consideration!

last-night-when-we-were-young-bluetibbett metr

Still in the Garland corner, Last Night When We Were Young was one additional casualty. Written by her future songwriters Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg in 1935 for METROPOLITAN, a Lawrence Tibbett 20th Century Fox film, it was cut before release.  Tibbett did record it for RCA Victor and Judy coveted her copy of the disc.  She tried several times to fit the composition into one of her pictures and succeeded with IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME in 1948. Yet once again, the song was cut.

judy summertime

The footage still exists and it can easily be seen why the sequence was dropped.  Though Judy looks and sounds sensational, this intensely sophisticated, mournful song just was too “heavy” for a light comedy-musical, albeit one with dramatic touches. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the nearly forgotten song became a semi-standard, through commercial recordings by Frank Sinatra and Garland.

judy last night

Coming full circle in the tangled history of these songs, as Judy sang in EASTER PARADE, Better Luck Next Time!

judy better luck