Summer Camp: Miranda and Montez’s Technicolor Freak-Outs


A luscious, lysergic double bill of summer camp, Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here and Robert Siodmak’s Cobra Woman pair the Brazilian Bombshell (Carmen Miranda) with the Caribbean Cyclone (Maria Montez). In Berkeley’s 1943 Technicolor freak-out, the plot—soldier Andy is engaged to the gal next door but falls for melancholy showgirl Edie—is a mere addendum to the increasingly baroque musical numbers.
Gang is the apotheosis of fruitiness: Miranda’s Dorita singing and samba-ing to “The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat,” a chorus of curvy beauties performing a near obscene synchronized number with giant bananas, prissy perennial second banana Edward Everett Horton cutting loose with Carmen. All the players in this overstuffed extravaganza, including a crooning Benny Goodman and an impossibly leggy Charlotte Greenwood as a jiving Westchester matron, give jaw-dropping turns as, in the words of one character, “tenderized ham.” But it’s Miranda’s show, whether she’s embellishing American slang (“You are here to kick up some more heels, huh?”) or popping out from a cornucopia of leafy produce for her first song and dance.

Jack Smith, who deified the Dominican starlet in “The Perfect Filmic Appositeness of Maria Montez,” referred to the actress as the “Marvelous One.” Siodmak’s 1944 film features her as the Marvelous Two, playing both virtuous South Seas lovely Tollea and evil twin Naja. Although not a musical, Cobra Woman functions as one, boasting Naja’s orgiastic undulating cobra dance and the mellifluous ring of Montez’s thickly accented line delivery. A Miranda-Montez double feature amply proves Susan Sontag’s observation: “Camp is the glorification of ‘character.'” But perhaps these two exalted figures were simply too much for this world, both meeting untimely ends: Miranda at 46 from a heart attack and Montez at 34 from a bathtub accident.