11/3/09

The Glenn Miller Story (1954)

James Stewart (Glenn Miller), June Allyson (Helen Berger Miller), Harry Morgan (Chummy MacGregor)

Directed by Anthony Mann (The Far Country)

Summary: Tells the story of big band leader Glenn Miller's inauspicious beginnings, his marriage and family, and his eventual worldwide success before his unfortunate death by a plane crash in December 1944.

After all this big bang music I've been listening to, I had to see The Glenn Miller Story. I mean, Jimmy Stewart! He's dreamy and awesome--the ultimate good guy. This was one of four movies he completed in 1954, including a favorite in the Lofty house: Rear Window. He was roughly 45 years old at the time, while Glenn Miller died at age 40. This made some of the "just starting out" scenes from Miller's youth a little implausible. You could practically reach out and touch the technicolor pancake make-up on both leads.

But these minor points didn't get in the way of my enjoyment. Stewart portrayed Miller as determined and gifted but somewhat...lost. He knew what he wanted from his music and heard it clearly; he just didn't know how to bring about the reality of it. Much credit for his success is given to his wife, Helen: she scrimped and saved for the "Glenn Miller Band Fund," prodded him into taking more chances, and inspired several of his most lasting tunes. I came away with the impression that there wouldn't have been a Glenn Miller, as the world came to know him, without his wife.

The music was great, the war time settings very apropos of my current mood, and the ending made me cry. Imagine having to listen to your husband's music on Christmas Day knowing that he wasn't there to conduct it, and that his band members were carrying on in his memory. And then imagine that he'd planned a special surprise song for that performance as a Christmas gift--only he wasn't around anymore. *sniff*

Gah. So sad!

The saddest part, however, was the line Harry Morgan had about how "kids are gonna be dancing to Glenn's music for years to come." That was somewhat true in 1944 when Miller disappeared, but it was certainly less true when the film came out ten years later--the same year Bill Haley recorded "Rock Around the Clock." Kids wouldn't rediscover big band until roughly 1997 with Brian Setzer and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's brief resurrection of the genre. In many ways, The Glenn Miller Story was nostalgic from the start, an ode to what it was to be young in the 40s and an attempt to hang on to the last vestiges of that age.

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