Bananas, bananas everywhere! Choreographer-director Busby Berkeley’s senses-boggling musical is probably best known for “The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat,” a highly suggestive centerpiece that, once seen, is never forgotten. Future camp icon Carmen Miranda sashays her way around a stage filled with palm trees, monkeys and 60 chorines who lift and lower gigantic yellow produce in geometric tandem. It’s the kind of sequence conceived to make your mouth go permanently agape, and the dementedness doesn’t end there.
Berkeley made this thrillingly crazed concoction, his first in color, while he was on loan to 20th Century Fox after a particularly fallow period at MGM. It feels like a creative purge, with an incidental plot—nightclub hostess (Alice Faye) wooed by already-engaged GI (James Ellison)—stringing together a series of spectacular-spectacular! set pieces. Time and again, you can’t believe what you’re witnessing: Berkeley’s camera swoops and soars at seemingly impossible trajectories through crowds of extras; Miranda models an expansive fruit headdress; Benny Goodman and His Orchestra perform a hilarious novelty song that encapsulates the film’s fuck-it-all nature (“Paducah, Paducah, / If you wanna, you can rhyme it with bazooka”). But nothing can prepare you for the literally kaleidoscopic finale, which includes a gaggle of synchronized showgirls, contains eye-searing imagery that anticipates everything from The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T to Tron and, scariest of all, features the disembodied head of corpulent character actor Eugene Pallette croaking the movie’s swoony love ballad, “Journey to a Star.” No jaw left undropped, eh, Busb?
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