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This loose biographical account of famous jazz and big band leader Glenn Miller (Jimmy Stewart) details the life of the talented trombonist and composer as he struggles as a starving musician to find regular work and develop his own unique big band sound. While based in New York in the mid 1930s, Glenn marries his sweetheart and inspiration Helen (June Allyson) and becomes one of the biggest musical artists in the world. Together the two work on his illustrious career until he is commissioned into the army during the Second World War and disappears on a flight over the English Channel.

Review by Craig Miller:
It's a good idea to be well prepared for the sentimentality of a 1940/50s Hollywood musical biopic, because it really can throw you from enjoying them as entertainment. Now as well as that general genre caution, specifically, you should consider yourself well and truly warned in regards to director Anthony Mann's The Glenn Miller Story, because this one is a major culprit!

There is really very little to the story; Mann starts us off mid way through Miller's tough times as he is trying to find himself musically and throws in details from his life, ending it, logically, with Miller's unfortunate passing. But he never lets fact get in the way of a good story. A lot of creative licence has been taken with proceedings and Mann tends to gloss over any real drama and focus on romanticizing the events.

There is a sweetness about the film - the cinematic optimism of the 1950s and the simple way the film is realised make it hard to watch without a wry smile on your face - but as we progress through Miller's life from his early dramas through to his monstrous successes as one of the biggest big band leaders in music history, the film often finds itself bogged down in the sentiment.

US film icon Jimmy Stewart dons a pair of glasses and slips into a predictable, yet enjoyable, "Jimmy Stewart playing Glenn Miller". June Allyson as Miller's caring yet fiercely independent wife Helen helps break the "back story - musical number, back story - musical number" monotony with some much-needed dramatic flair and spunk, and she is rewarded with the film's most powerful and touching scene late in the film.

There's a string of big name big band cameos that fly on and off screen including Louis Armstrong, Ben Pollack, Arvell Shaw, Gene Krupa and Barney Bigard, as well as a host of other un-credited musicians who played with Miller and other big bands of the time.

But the real star is the music. "Moonlight Serenade", "Little Brown Jug", "String of Pearls", Pennsylvania 6-5000", "In the Mood", "Chattanooga Choo Choo", all Miller's most popular arrangements, punctuate the film's landscape regularly and, in true 1950s musical biopic style, we don't just get snippets but rather long takes of these classic hits.

Finding the right balance between sentimental story and music numbers is never much of a concern for this musical biopic (I use the term biopic loosely). The music of Glenn Miller is an enchanting force and, in this case, the story just gets in the way of some delightful tunes.

Published March 17, 2005

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(US, 1953)

CAST: James Stewart, June Allyson, Harry Morgan, Charles Drake, George Tobias, Barton MacLane, Sig Ruman

DIRECTOR: Anthony Mann

SCRIPT: Valentine Davies & Oscar Brodney

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 1.85:1, Dolby 2.0



DVD RELEASE: March 23, 2005

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