The Glenn Miller Story (1953)
It's Miller Time
Four Trombones and Four Trumpets! When they get playing, what's gonna hold the roof on? - Si Schribman
"The Glenn Miller Story" if you couldn't guess is the biopic of legendary big band leader, Glenn Miller, played by James Stewart, who is famed for creating the big band sound with such classics as 'Moonlight Serenade' and 'Pennsylvania 6-5000'. Covering his life from his early days as a struggling musician / composer through to his commission into the services where he entertained the troops during the war. "The Glenn Miller Story" paints a picture perfect look at one of America's most famous and loved musicians.
Although I won't deny that I enjoy "The Glenn Miller Story", as it is a pleasant insight into the life of Glenn Miller, I also won't deny that it is a hugely flawed movie which without James Stewart taking the lead would have been less than spectacular. Made back in 1953, "The Glenn Miller Story" suffers from being over sanitized, failing to paint Glenn Miller in anything but a positive light. Whilst this will please the legions of Glenn Miller fans and those who enjoy movies which are full of innocence and over sentimentality this approach fails to deliver anything more than a dull, uneventful movie which will not appeal to anyone expecting a realistic biopic. Not wanting to sound over critical, but except for a semi-dramatic climax, the only drama comes from a vehicle breaking down forcing Miller to miss a gig and his wife becoming ill.
Part of the problem is that "The Glenn Miller Story" focuses too heavily on the musical side of Glenn Miller's life and skims over most of his personal life. Whilst the inclusion of scenes such as when he came up with the idea for 'Moonlight Serenade' or when he gets called onto stage to play with Louis Armstrong, are interesting they do not make up for the lack of drama. Maybe the fact is that Glenn Miller led a pretty uneventful personal life, although I doubt it and I believe the film makers created an over sanitized movie because they didn't want to tarnish an American hero and who could blame them. On the few occasions where "The Glenn Miller Story" delves into Miller's personal life, they are done in such a fleeting manner that even his romance and marriage to the lovely Helen Berger is handled in less than a couple of minutes of screen time.
But whilst the whiter than white storyline is a disappointment, the cast and their performances help to make up for it. Most notably the casting of James Stewart was a master stroke as not only does he have an uncanny resemblance to the band leader, but it his performance which makes you enjoy this movie. Like in his other movies, such as "It's a Wonderful Life", Stewart does not just act the part, he becomes the character in question bringing them to life in front of your eyes.
Whilst Stewart is obviously the main attraction, June Allyson is perfect as his supportive wife Helen, in what is in reality quite a cliche character. In the same manner as Stewart, she doesn't just act her part but inhabits her character making her both sweet and engaging, especially during the sentimental climax. Whilst the remaining supporting cast were mostly unfamiliar to me, Harry Morgan who played Glenn's best friend Chummy was a familiar face from his days playing Col. Sherman T. Potter in "M*A*S*H*". Sadly his character was never really explored which is disappointing considering his prominence through out the movie.
Of course a big draw for "The Glenn Miller Story" is the music which features numerous tunes which have become synonymous with Glenn Miller. From the beautiful 'Moonlight Serenade' to the up beat 'In the Mood' I doubt that any Glen Miller fan will be disappointed. But it is not just Miller's music which features in "The Glenn Miller Story", with pieces from many other artists of the time featuring just as strongly, such as Louis Armstrong's "Basin Street Blues' who also happens to make a short appearance in the movie.
What this all boils down to is that whilst I have no doubt in my mind that "The Glenn Miller Story", with its niche appeal, has a legion of fans amongst those who are fond of Glenn Miller's music as well those who are fans of James Stewart. I readily admit that despite some great performances from Stewart and Allyson, it is ultimately quite dull due to its uneventful storyline and overly sanitized approach.
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