The Glenn Miller Story Review

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Spurred on by his wife Helen and best pal Chummy MacGregor, trombonist band leader Glenn Miller searches for the sound that he knows the kids will love.


Universal Studios had sizeable misgivings about this tribute to Glenn Miller, the King of Swing whose plane had disappeared ten years earlier while crossing the English Channel for a Christmas concert. Musical biopics like The Fabulous Dorseys had invariably failed at the box office, while musical tastes had changed considerably in the decade since Miller's demise. But the suits were equally concerned by the lukewarm reception accorded James Stewart's trio of psychological Westerns with director Anthony Mann. However, they needn't have worried, as this became the fifth highest-grossing film of 1954 and Stewart himself earned over $1 million from his share of the profits.

Miller's mother had complained when Stewart was cast that he wasn't as handsome as her son. However, he certainly made Miller more genial than many remembered him and he also brought his music to a bigger audience than the trombonist himself had managed through countless tours, radio broadcasts and movies like Sun Valley Serenade and Orchestra Wives. Although it took fewer liberties than such songwriter histories as Night And Day and Words And Music (1948), this was still very much a rose-tinted portrait that made a hero out of a workaholic, who actually stumbled across his distinctive sound through years of trial and error rather than a moment of chance inspiration when a trumpeter's split lip led to `Moonlight Serenade' being played on a clarinet.  

 But Mann sticks laudably to his plan `to tell the story of a man who is hunting for something new and finally finds it'. To that end, he creditably captured the slog of life on the road and the exhilaration of jam sessions with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Gene Krupa (for which Stewart copied the hand movements of Joe Yukl to Murray MacEachern's accompaniment). However, Mann couldn't resist romanticising the mournful finale, as Miller had recorded `Little Brown Jug' years before it came across the ether like a parting gift.

Hugely enjoyable biopic of the great musicman with a rather sympathetic portrayal from James Stewart.