Andrew Mason Jr. (James Ellison) is a young man from an extremely rich family who has enlisted in the Army and is about to go off to active duty in World War II. The night before Andy's due to ship out, he goes to the Club New Yorker and catches a spectacular stage show starring Brazilian firecracker Dorita (Carmen Miranda). Andy becomes enchanted with Eadie Allen (Alice Faye), a singer in the show. He gives her his buddy Casey's name as he doesn't want Eadie to know that he's a scion of privilege. Andy follows her to the Hollywood Canteen, where she volunteers, and they wind up spending a romantic evening. He ships out the next day and Eadie, who has already fallen head over heels, promises to write him every day.
What Eadie doesn't know is that Andy is already informally engaged to Vivian Potter, daughter to another wealthy family that is old friends with the Masons. Eadie keeps her promise and writes Andy throughout Andy's service in the Pacific theater. When Andy comes home his father Andrew Mason Sr. (Eugene Pallette) wants to throw him a welcome home party, and the Masons are so rich that they hire a musical troupe to make Andy's party into a big war bond rally. The musical troupe they hire? Dorita and Eadie's, leading to an awkward revelation when Eadie comes to Andy's house and finds out about Vivian, as well as finding out Andy's true identity.
All this is really an excuse for trippy, spectacular Busby Berkeley musical numbers. Berkeley, who received credit both as director and as director of the musical numbers, was directing a Technicolor film for the first time, and really took advantage, filling his movie with a riot of bright colors and hallucinatory imagery.
Alfred Newman arranged the score.
- As Himself:
- Phil Baker, star of vaudeville, stage, and radio, appears as the director of the musical troupe, Phil Baker.
- Benny Goodman and his orchestra perform two numbers.
- Busby Berkeley Number: Of course! Two stand out:
- "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat," which features, among other things, dozens of showgirls twirling around six-foot-long bananas.
- The closing number, "The Polka-Dot Polka", which is a truly spectacular barrage of surreal imagery. Little kids in polka-dot dresses, the standard dozens of showgirls twirling neon hoops, and the even more bizarre ending in which the screen is broken up into kaleidoscope fractals before the disembodied heads of the cast sing the closing reprise.
- Camp: Carmen Miranda became a camp icon for her absurdly over-the-top costumes, which somehow make her look like a drag queen even when she actually was a biological female. The whole film is very campy, with a lot of Large Ham acting, spectacular choreography, elaborate musical numbers, and phallic imagery.
- Celebrity Paradox: Andy is putting the moves on Eadie when she says "Stop acting like Don Ameche and get me a taxi." Don Ameche, of course, was Alice Faye's costar in In Old Chicago and Alexander's Ragtime Band.
- Epic Tracking Shot: The film begins with a daring tracking shot lasting over three minutes, starting with a ship mooring at a dock, pulling back to reveal Carmen Miranda and the fact that the show is actually a show, then swooping back into the audience to reveal more singers and chorus girls including Alice Faye as Eadie, before going back to Dorita on stage.
- Excuse Plot: As with most Berkeley movies, the Love Triangle story is really just a reason to justify having a bunch of musical numbers. Notably, we don't even see Eadie's reconciliation with Andy at the end.
- Face Framed in Shadow: The movie opens with a man singing "Brazil", in total darkness, the only thing visible being the right side of his face lit by an off-frame spotlight.
- Fanservice Extra: So very many chorus girls.
- Funny Foreigner: When she isn't singing, or smothering Mr. Potter with kisses, Dorita is mangling the English language in amusing ways.“I spilled the cat out of the beans!”
- Have a Gay Old Time: One of the things that made this movie a camp classic might be some of the lyrics Dorita sings in "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat."“Some people say I dress too gay / But every day I feel so gay / and when I’m gay I dress that way / Is something wrong with that? …No!”
- Hidden Depths: Blossom Potter, Andy's mom, seems to be a starchy Grande Dame until the boy she's grudingly dancing with busts out with the jitterbug. Mrs. Potter says "He wants to play," and starts a leg-kicking dance of her own. It turns out that years before she became a society wife she was a performer on the stage with Phil Baker.
- Medium Awareness: Seemingly the case with Eadie, when she starts to sing to Andy on the ferry, and with a wave of her hand summons an invisble orchestra to provide backing music.Eadie: Hear the orchestra?
Andy: Yeah. Where’s it coming from?
Eadie: Where’s your imagination?
- The Musical Musical: Most of the numbers are presented as a theater troupe performing numbers.
- Organ Grinder: Epic number "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat" is introduced, for some reason, with a shot of an organ grinder and his monkey in the audience. Later there's a whole line of organ grinders with monkeys.
- Person with the Clothing: "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat" makes up a whole musical number.
- Proscenium Reveal: The opening scene appears to be a ship from Brazil pulling into port in New York, carrying a load of fruit. Eventually the camera pulls back to reveal that it's an elaborate stage musical number.
- Spicy Latina: Carmen Miranda was called "the Brazilian bombshell", and she certainly is in this movie. She wears a series of revealing costumes, she's feisty, and then there's the scene where Dorita smothers Mr. Potter with kisses as she pumps him for financial advice.
- Spinning Paper: Some newspapers with extremely generic headlines about the Army taking Japanese islands, along with some clips of Andy advancing through some generic jungle, are used in a montage to dramatize Andy's wartime service.
- Titled After the Song: One of the few songs that wasn't written for the film was "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here", which was written in 1917 and set to a tune from The Pirates of Penzance.
- Trippy Finale Syndrome: Closing number "Polka Dot Polka" eventually leaves reality behind completely. Notionally this is supposed to be an outdoor show put on to sell war bonds, but what we see on screen is a jaw-dropping spectacle of kaleidoscopic imagery (literally, images fractured like in kaleidoscopes) and bright, vivid colors that doesn't resemble a stage show so much as it does a particularly vivid acid trip, or the Jupiter sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey if it had been used for a musical. The very last scene has the disembodied heads of all the main cast, including raspy, frog-voiced Eugene Pallette, floating across the screen as they sing the closing song.
- Tutti Frutti Hat: Trope Maker, for that gigantic fruit hat that Carmen Miranda invented and wore in a musical number specifically dedicated to said hat.
- Visual Innuendo: "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat" has two examples.
- The very phallic bananas◊ that the showgirls twirl around. The censors demanded that the girls hold the bananas at belly level and not any further down.
- Then the bananas are used to form a ring◊ which opens and closes◊ in a way that rather strongly resembles a certain delicate part of the human anatomy.
- Zip Me Up: One of the showgirls asks Casey to "hook me up." He hooks up her costume, she toddles off, and he goes racing after her. Later Andy gets rid of Casey by saying "Why don't you watch the rehearsals, maybe some of the girls need hooking up, huh?"