13 January 2002 | Fleapit
If music be the food of love, play on Glenn, play on!(after W.S.)
Produced nine years after his death this is Hollywood's obituary of swing era legend Glenn Miller. Essentially a musical told around the story of his struggle to achieve musical stardom. A film that will appeal to all lovers of 1930s swing music and Glenn Miller in particular. A film also for James Stewart fans. Casting the gangling Stewart as Miller was a huge gamble that succeeded; if it had failed so would have the film. This success was due to Anthony Mann's undoubted ability as a director. The Mann-Stewart combination had already proved itself but here both were on unfamiliar territory. Mann's forté was the outdoor adventure while Stewart was a pre-war light comedy star still trying to find a new identity. Mann had earlier directed Stewart in Winchester '73(1950)and the two were to go on to further success with The Far Country (1954) and The Man from Larramie (1955). He excels himself in bringing out previously unknown talents in Stewart that make this a career best for the Actor. Clad simply in a military raincoat, a trombone to his lips and sporting a USAAF officer's peaked cap he requires no further make-up to pass himself off as the wartime Miller. Among the lesser credits is the name of an unknown Henry Mancini but this was to be his big break as at the young age of 22 he was to become an Oscar nominee (jointly with Joseph Gershenson) for musical scoring. Before joining Universal Mancini had been a piano player and arranger with the post-war "Glenn Miller Orchestra", by using musicians from this band, made up mainly of sidesmen from Miller's own bands, Mancini ensured an authentic re-creation of the seductive Miller sound that had enchanted teenagers in the years leading up to the war. Regrettably an argument with the Miller Estate prevented the participation of saxophonist Ted Beneke, who had earlier led the post-war band and was renowned for his performance of Chattanoga Choo-Choo in"SunValley Serenade" (1941). The fidelity of the sound track of Miller's music won the film an Oscar for best sound recording of a musical. After a ponderous start the film picks up pace in apparent tune with Miller's success until the last reel is a non-stop performance of Miller standards. Miller was supported throughout by his wife, Helen, sympathetically played by a cuddlesome June Allyson, who ceaselessly encouraged him when all seemed to have failed. When news of his death reaches her one immediately feels her sadness in her loss and spontaneously grieves with her. Get your hankies out! A few minor lapses mar an otherwise competent production; Miller is incongruously seen in his army raincoat an a glorious summer's day conducting his wartime band at an outdoor concert in England just after D-day while the audience and band are in standard military attire; a continuity lapse shows a German flying bomb attack taking place before D-day, 6th June, whereas the first one did not reach England until the following week. Miller's loss at the peak of popularity, flying in advance of his band to make arrangements in Paris for his Christmas concert, ensured his enduring fame. As his plane and body were never recovered the mystery of his death has added to the legend. Only in the last decade have military historians been able to piece together his last moments and pinpoint where the plane came down. Whilst crossing the English Channel in dense fog the plane, which relied entirely on a compass for navigation, wandered off course and entered a prohibited area reserved for returning Allied bombers to drop any left over bombs; it was one of these that hit the plane so bringing to its end the life of one Glenn Alton Miller. Anthony Mann's deliberately abrupt end to the film comes as a jolt and dramatically conveys the unexpected loss of the patriotic Miller in his prime - the touch of the Master. A film that has stood the test of time; part fact, part fiction, it will remain the definitive tribute to the man and his music. Good wholesome entertainment for the whole family and a must for Stewart and Miller fans.